The Curious Case Of “The Phantom Casual Fan Offensive” in Muay Thai

Why Hasn’t Muay Thai and Kickboxing Caught On Yet?

Part 3 of 3: The Show

Photo credit: Steve Bauzen of Bauzen.com

Photo credit: Steve Bauzen of Bauzen.com

This weekend I went to what was the 4th event of a local ProAm kickboxing promotion.

I attended their first three events, and each one, in terms of venue, lighting, & just the overall crowd and vibe, had a real East Bay Rats [for my Bay Area people out there] meets “The Titty Twister”, sans the vampires & Selma Hayek strip tease, feel to it. There wasn’t much in the way of crowd diversity and a bathroom shanking or a police raid always seemed eminent.

However, this weekend there was a venue change.

And with that small change came so many positives and a couple of revelations for myself that happen to tie into the topic at hand. This brings me to the 3rd ingredient to our growth cocktail:

The Show!

One major positive was that the crowd was much more diverse than in the past, particularly in the way of “casual” fans. I could tell that there were a lot of people in attendance who had never been to a kickboxing event before and they they were not necessarily directly affiliated any of the fighters.

Enough can’t be said about how important being able to attract a diverse crowd to your live show is in terms of growing not only a promotion, but a sport in general.

Diversity in the types of people attending your event naturally broadens the reach of the promotion and will expose our sport to a broader demographic. But it also provides for some very interesting & fun interactions that you may not get when 90% of everyone in attendance is already part of the fight world or affiliated with the fighters.

No one rocked the American Flag shorts and pants like legend Rick Roufus.

No one rocked the American Flag shorts and pants like legend Rick Roufus.

For example, there was a young amateur fighter who fought in a pair of American flag shorts, a la Rick Roufus. His opponent just so happened to be Mexican. The fight itself was pretty crazy but what made those 2 1/2 rounds even more interesting was when a guy seated by me, stood up and screamed “Murrica!” This guy was completely unaffiliated with any fighters, he himself wasn’t a fighter, and he didn’t really have a dog in the fight. He was just there with his buddies to watch people punch other people. But his random and slightly inebriated outburst sparked off chants of “U.S.A.” which led to rival chants of “Mexico”.

The crowd, mostly casual fans, went NUTS and got even more into the fight itself because of that. I find that opportunities like this are often missed when the crowd is filled with the Snobby 1% and our ilk.

After the event was over I heard several people remark how much fun it was when the chanting started and how they’re going to come to future shows. Personally, I’m not a chanter. I hate that shit. I believe that every time a competitive chant begins, an angel commits Hari Kari.

However, do you know who loves competitive chants? Annoying casual fans. T-shirt buyers. Drunk bar guys. Hooters girls. Experiences like that will bring them back; they’ll bring more of their annoying casual fan friends and that’s what we want. They’ll all chant stupid shit, people like me will wish death upon them in our minds, but they’ll have an amazing time being annoying and buy a damn t-shirt. Success has been had.

If you build it, they will come…

But wait. Now they’re all leaving! Make them stay! How do we make them stay?!

It can’t be enough to simply get people to show up or tune-in to your show. You have to make them want to stay tuned and when it’s over, you have to leave them wanting to come back! Crowd diversity plays a major part in getting fans to come back to the live show, but what about that would-be cash cow which is the live broadcast?

The life blood of a good broadcast are the commentators who have to be able to breathe life into the sport especially when the athletes are relatively nameless faceless combatants the way that most of them are in Muay Thai and Kickboxing today.

There was once a time when people had no TVs to watch their favorite boxers kill each other and yet hundreds of thousands of people tuned in. What got them there was a number of factors that I’ve touched on and others that I will not, but a large part of what kept them tuned in were the commentators. I sometimes listen to old fight audio for kicks and it’s actually a lot of fun. The commentators were very animated and knowledgeable and they really knew how to tell the story of the fight. I think that art has been lost a bit.

The Big Kabosh!

Love him or hate him, Joe Rogan knows how to commentate a fight.

Love him or hate him, Joe Rogan knows how to commentate a fight.

When promoters are looking for the voices of their broadcast, they need to keep one thing in mind. “If you wouldn’t listen to your commentator call the fight on the radio then you have the wrong guy!”

Love or hate Joe Rogan [UFC commentator] if you please, but you have to admit that the man is damn good at his job. Personally, Joe Rogan annoys the hell out of me because he often doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about and he says shit like “Muay Thai kicks are telegraphed.” *shakes fist*

However, at the same time, I appreciate him because I would seriously listen to a UFC fight on the radio with Rogan commentating. Sure, I’d be left thinking the wrong guy is winning the fight 70% of the time, but I’d stay tuned in. Even the chemistry between him and Mike Goldberg, a bit of a tool in his own right, just works.

But a lot of promotions across the board, not just Muay Thai and Kickboxing, do not seem to realize how important a solid commentator and commentator chemistry is to a broadcast. This becomes even more important when you’re not putting on PPV fights and most of your audience is watching and listening at home as opposed to in a loud bar where you can’t hear the commentators.

AXSTV-Schiavello

Michael Schiavello is one of the best commentators in Muay Thai and kickboxing today.

Personally, I’m a huge Pat Miletich fan, for a number of reasons, but none of those reasons have anything to do with his commentating. He’s pretty bad actually. [Only Julie Kedzie is worse.] He is technically knowledgeable, but he is so dry.

The “Big Kibosh” guy, “The Voice”, aka Mike Schiavello is the shit!

I’d listen to him commentate a rascal motorized wheelchair race between two old people in a shopping mall. But even he can’t carry Pat “The Ben Stein of Combat Sports Commentary” Miletich. Pat is bland and they just don’t have the chemistry.

The importance of this cannot be taken for granted. Let’s say you’re new to watching Kickboxing or Muay Thai. Naturally you’re learning this new sport as you’re watching the fight, so you will rely on the commentator’s ability to hold your attention a lot more than a die hard fan will. But will you continue to listen or will you get bored of Pat droning on with zero inflection in his voice. My money says you’ll lose interest.

Side Note: Someone hire the PrideFC announcer lady already!

The Yellow Brick Road to the Big Show

Something else happened during the fights this weekend which reaffirmed a revelation that I had some time ago about our sport in American.

A fighter, after his victory, was asked by the ring announcer “What’s next for you?”

He said, after a kickboxing match mind you, “I wanna go pro! I wanna go to the UFC!”.

The crowd went nuts. I thought to myself, “I wonder what this crowd of casual fans’ reaction would have been had he yelled out “I wanna go to Glory!” or Lion Fight. Would they know what the hell he was talking about? Would he even know what the necessary steps of having a career as a Muay Thai fighter or Kickboxer are? How does he get to “The Big Show”?”

In the U.S., there isn’t a clear cut yellow brick road laid out for how one can make a career as a pro Muay Thai fighter or Kickboxer, but there needs to be. If not, then we will continue to lose talent that could grow our sport to MMA or boxing where the road is much more clear.

So there you have it. The Casual Fan Cocktail.  Exposure as the base, Drama to give it some kick, & The Show to help it go down smooth.

If promotions learn how to truly leverage these three aspects of the fight game for maximum effect, I truly believe that Muay Thai and Kickboxing would have a better chance of catching fire the way we hope it will.

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Another great photo from www.Bauzen.com

In Closing

I think about the state of our sport today and I know these promotions could have really learned a lot from a guy like my grand father.

My grandfather was not a fashionable man by any means. He wore high water pants with suspenders & checkered button up shirts all the time. But he was a brilliant strategist [he had so much game] and he gave me the best piece of fashion/life advice ever when I was 6 years old. He told me, “Dress for the job you want. Not the job you have.”

On one hand it seems silly to have said that to a 6 year old who didn’t care about anything at the time except boxing, NWA, and baseball, but I think he knew that I’d realize how to apply that piece of fashion advice in other ways.

So I say to these promotions; “Market your product to the fans you want. Not the fans you have.”

Read the entire series:

Part 1: Exposure

Part 2: Drama

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