Hong Kong-based promotion Legend Fighting Championship has some powerful new allies.
Legend officials Wednesday announced that the company has formed a partnership with CA Media, a group headed by longtime News Corporation president Peter Chernin and Paul Aiello, a former executive with Morgan Stanley Asia and former CEO of Star TV. California-based firm Diamond Ridge Ventures, LLC, (DRV) was also named as an investor; financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Speaking with Sherdog.com, Legend co-founder Michael Haskamp explained that he and partner Chris Pollak entered into talks with CA Media in late-2010, shortly after Chernin and Aiello formed the company with the intent of focusing on “opportunities in content creation, television networks, sports, education, advertising, and digital media.”
“They look at everything from stadiums to TV shows, to animation studios, sports, movie production, etc.,” said Haskamp. “These guys are just masters of media. They know a ton about content production, about distribution, and they have a whole different level of access and relationships in this part of the world.”
According to an official release issued Wednesday, with the aid of CA Media and DRV, Legend “will aggressively broaden its television and digital media distribution, and build its sponsor relationships, affiliated content and licensed offerings.”
“Legend’s strong track record of audience and reputational growth make them the natural partner to help us raise MMA to the level of popularity in Asia that it has already achieved elsewhere in the world,” Aiello stated. “We are confident that Chris and Mike’s passion, energy and integrity, together with CA Media’s experience in building media and entertainment businesses, will help Legend become the undisputed leader in MMA content originating from Asia.”
For Haskamp and Pollak, who have funded Legend themselves through the company’s first 18 months of existence, the partnership was precisely what they had been waiting for.
“Obviously money’s important, it helps you get to the next level, but what we were really looking for was a strategic partner that could add not just money, but relationships and help us with the direction of the business,” Haskamp said. “It was a real challenge to get ourselves to the point where we are, and frankly, we still have a lot of progress to make and a long way to go, but I think there are a couple of key lessons to learn. One of those is that distribution is really everything. Distribution drives your live audience, it obviously drives your sponsorship, and the value of your content on TV drives your licensing revenues as well. That’s part of the reason why this CA relationship and investment is so meaningful to us.”
Highly regarded in the television and film industry, Chernin amicably parted ways with News Corp. and subsidiary Fox Entertainment Group in June 2009 after more than 20 years with the Rupert Murdoch-owned media conglomerate. The 60-year-old New York native subsequently established his own production company, Chernin Entertainment, and the Chernin Group, the latter of which launched the Asia-based CA Media in November 2010.
Chernin currently serves as CA’s chairman, and Aiello as CEO. The company’s interests lie not only in China, but also India and Indonesia, a fact which Haskamp says could see Legend taking its show abroad sooner than later.
“For them, doing four shows a year, for example, is not enough. They want us to be doing a lot more shows in as many different geographies as possible, to develop our fan base and distribution there,” said Haskamp, citing Jakarta and Singapore as potential destinations for Legend in 2012.
Along with an increased number of live events, Legend will begin producing additional, non-fight content for television between shows. Exactly what form that content will take has yet to be defined, but Legend has an idea of what sort of programming will suit Asia-Pacific audiences.
“If you look at MMA content in general, you have stuff like the UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator, the stuff that comes out of the U.S., which is obviously very well produced. But, over in this part of the world, it’s not considered local content,” Haskamp noted. “For example, the UFC has ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right formula for non-fight content in this part of the world -- it’s certainly a very expensive show to produce -- but I think that there’s a lot of stuff that we can do over here, particularly in partnership with local broadcasters, and try to develop reasonably budgeted, relevant, local content, possibly even on a market-by-market basis.”
Legend is currently prepping for its fifth event, which takes place July 16 and marks the company’s first card in its new home, Macau’s City of Dreams casino resort. And while some future shows will likely take place outside of China, Haskamp said the company is searching domestically for its future stars.
“We’re looking to pick up more Chinese fighters. The pool there is incredibly deep. There’s a lot of talent there,” Haskamp enthused. “I was just up in Beijing at China Top Team, looking at some of their newest prospects -- and, actually, I think ‘prospect’ isn’t a fair way to describe them. These are the 2010, 2009 King of Sanda champions who are basically at the top of their game on the striking side and are now transitioning to MMA by working under Ruy Menezes. These guys are 21, 22 years old, so there’s a ton of upside.”