There’s a New Trump in Town

By Loretta Hunt Jan 15, 2009
When your last name is Trump you can’t help but look at things in terms of mile-high skyscrapers and city blocks -- mixed martial arts included.

Donald Trump Jr., who has recently been entrusted with heading up the Trump organization’s involvement with novice fight promotion Affliction Entertainment for his famous father, said his added role probably won’t veer too far from what he dabbles in every day.

“It’s probably a general question like when they ask me what I do within the real estate companies and I say I do whatever is needed,” said the eldest son of the pop culture icon.

Duties will likely include coordinating marketing and promotions, as well as assisting with fighter and venue contracts alongside the Affliction promotion and its production partners, Golden Boy Entertainment.

The difference is this Trump, a 31-year-old father with his second child on the way right around Affliction’s second event on Jan. 24, is much closer to MMA’s strongest demographic in every way.

“Having probably the unconventional childhood that I had, I didn’t play ball and catch with my father in the backyard and have the typical American experience," Trump Jr. said. "I went to fights in Atlantic City because it was an event we were hosting and putting on."

A few of those fights happened to take place in the Octagon. UFC 28, 30, and 31 were held at the 5,000-seat Mark G. Etess Arena inside the Trump Taj Mahal in 2000 and 2001. The promotion, later taken over by Zuffa, would return to the larger Boardwalk Hall attached to Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino for UFC 41, 50 and, lastly, UFC 53 in June 2005.

“I remember going to my first UFC and really not knowing the names of the fighters and there certainly wasn’t some of the hype, but going and watching this level of action and saying, ‘Oh my God, this is a whole different world,’” said Trump Jr.

Though Trump Jr. said he was privy to the extravagant boxing events during “Iron” Mike Tyson’s heyday and even the ones that followed in his post-jail frenzy, the mogul’s son saw more potential in MMA.

“Early in my career, as much as I still go to boxing events, I just got a little jaded with, ‘Well, if it ends up in a decision, he with the biggest promoter seems to win.’ I never understood that as a kid,” said Trump Jr.

One would think with the Trump dynasty’s connections with Zuffa and the UFC, as well as the meticulous patriarch’s appetite for attaching himself to winning prospects, that the first family of real estate would want to hitch its wagon to the industry’s leader. Times have changed, however. Though Zuffa might have welcomed the Trump name and bank account as an ally only a few years ago when it was digging into a $40 million hole, today the UFC prides itself on flying solo.

Trump Jr. doesn’t seem to mind.

“For us, the opportunity was to be entrepreneurial, try to do something, put on a little competition,” said Trump Jr. “Obviously, I think they’ve [Zuffa] done a great job with what they have and what they created in the sport, but for us, to get into something a little more on the entrepreneurial side rather than something that’s a little more established probably made a lot more sense.”

Last June, Trump Sr. stood at the podium in front of a standing-room-only crowd and made his grand entrance as an ally of Affliction’s cause.

Details of the partnership between the property-pushing human conglomerate and his clothing contemporary have been sketchy, though many presume the ever-savvy Trump paid little, if anything, for a piece of the fledgling fight company. And in return, Affliction has been able to wield the Trump brand to lure in media and greater opportunities for exposure.

“There’s elements of that, but clearly were a very financially viable company,” said Trump Jr. of the arrangement. “Obviously, anything that we get involved in we’re able to negotiate very favorable terms to us from a certain perspective because of the brand that my father has created over 30 years as a businessman and entrepreneur. I don’t know if our involvement is going to be at a typical market rate for someone else that wanted to come in and buy into a company, but there’s definitely financial aspects of it that we’re involved in.”

It’s an interesting time to join the fight biz. The MMA landscape has been nothing short of volatile and lopsided in the last year. While one entity has prospered, entire companies -- complete with potentially lucrative broadcast television deals to boot -- have been swallowed whole.

For a debut event, Affliction “Banned,” held last July at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., could be hailed as a home run on the first pitch. The event had an above-average paid attendance number of 11,242 that generated a $2 million-plus gate. An industry insider places the show’s pay-per-view numbers somewhere in the range of 115,000 buys –- another triumph considering no others outside the UFC have ever been able to break the 50,000 mark.

Still, the $3.3 million spent in disclosed fighter pay -- which rises to between $5-6 million when one includes the signing bonuses forked over to bring the bigger names onboard –- does offset what chance for profit the event had, if any. With Affliction “Day of Reckoning,” set for Jan. 24 at the same venue, boasting the returns of No. 1 world-ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko and the popular Andrei Arlovski, its purse total is not expected to ebb considerably.

What monetary commitment Trump might or might not have pledged suddenly becomes extremely relevant. Trump Jr. remains tight-lipped, though he ensures his family won’t be going anywhere else soon.

“Any fledgling business -- you just can’t make money off of nothing,” said Trump Jr. “Maybe we’re able to do that every once in a while, but that’s not all that often. To get to a level where you can sustain … to be cash flow positive, you can’t expect that to happen on the first show or right away. I can tell you that we’re certainly committed to the sport and have been for umpteen years and believe in the growth prospect. So, I think we’re definitely in it for the long run.”

But what strides can Trump Jr. and company expect to make hosting three to four shows a year while the UFC gobbles up dollars and cents hosting 20 events in that time?

If there’s one thing a Trump knows, it is money and trends. Trump Sr. has endured numerous recessions, sometimes mulled with bankruptcy, and lived to build countless more skyrises. In the shadow of an increasingly squeamish market, Trump Jr. questions the salability of such a feverish pace.

“Is somebody going to buy a $45 pay-per-view every three weeks? Probably not. Two years ago could you get away with it? Definitely. Did it make sense? Definitely. Did people tune in? Almost without question,” said Trump Jr. “I think what you have to do is adjust your strategies according to a lot of the economy and what that will give you.

“When you start getting cards that are kind of average just to put out a show … are all those things actually turning a profit or digging themselves further into a hole, especially going into a bad [economic] time?” he continued. “For us, I’d rather put on three great shows a year or a great show a quarter, build up a loyalty to us, make sure the fans are getting what they want, as opposed to saying, ‘Well, let’s just throw on a show to make sure we have presence in the market.’ I’d rather give them the quality and people will stick around. When we think it makes sense to put on more shows, we will.”

In light of the coming months, Trump Jr. could have a point. Although it’s hard to validate a successful future for the promotion when one of its partners encroaches on those few nights Affliction does decide to hold an event.

Golden Boy’s decision to pit three-time world boxing champion Antonio Margarito against three-division world champion "Sugar" Shane Mosley at the nearby Staples Center in Los Angeles on the same night is perplexing to say the least. Not only will these newfound partners vie for ticket buyers, they’ll also split the press attempting to cover both events in the crucial days leading up to Jan. 24.

Trump Jr. likens the situation to a multimillion-dollar investment deal. If a New York real estate developer suddenly goes into business with a peer in Connecticut, neither can expect the other to stop making deals outside their partnership, regardless of whether it affects the other. Though this situation might be likened more to two hotels being built on the same block, it’s not a permanent predicament. The established Golden Boy promotion is providing a crucial production arm that Affliction lacks, and Trump Jr. said the positives will outweigh the negatives in the long run.

“There’s definitely [cross-over] fans of both [events],” said Trump, “but I think that relationship [between Affliction and Golden Boy] is fairly new and fresh. I know they’d been talking about these other fights that have been on the books for a very long time as well, before we were even committed with Golden Boy. I think we recognize that and in the future we’ll do a better job to keep them more separate and distinct. But there’s only so many Saturday nights in the year. We do have to work around it and make sure we aren’t cannibalizing off of each other. Ultimately, for the promotion of events in the future, it will work out better.”
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