As Professional Fighters League approaches the conclusion of its 2019 campaign, CEO Peter Murray sees an organization that has grown exponentially since rebranding from World Series of Fighting more than two years ago.
“I’m extremely happy with the momentum that we have in Year 2,” Murray recently told Sherdog.com. “Last year we launched the league, validated the format. In Year 2, we really focused on premium distribution and reach. You see that with our partnership with ESPN as well as expanded distribution outside the U.S. with top media companies in key regions and countries.
“The second piece I’m excited about in Year 2 is refinement of the product and technology,” Murray added. “With respect to that we’re the first ever to, under our SmartCage platform, launch athlete measurement data and analytics, real time and integrate into the broadcast measuring strike speed on every fighter and every fight. Other tracking analytics that get integrated into the live telecast. That’s game changing for combat and MMA and more to come next year.”
Of course, none of the above would be possible without a solid foundation. That, according to Murray, is the PFL roster, which included fighters from some 15 countries during the most recent season. The best and brightest will be on display on Tuesday night, when the PFL awards $1 million payouts to championship winners in six divisions at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New Year.
The event, which is headlined by a women’s lightweight title clash between Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison and and Larissa Pacheco, will air on ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT following one preliminary bout on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT. $1 million payouts will also be awarded to title victors in men’s divisions at welterweight, heavyweight, lightweight, featherweight and light heavyweight.
Harrison has emerged as one of PFL’s brightest stars with the launch of the 155-pound women’s division. She will be a heavy favorite to dispatch Pacheco for a second time on Tuesday night and become the promotion’s inaugural female lightweight champion. Murray believes the season format is the key for building stars within the PFL.
“We do have the ability to develop these fighters as they compete and win and show what they’re all about as we market the league and get behind each fighter’s individual journey,” he said. “We believe the format is built to create stars.”
Murray says ratings increased overall during the organization’s sophomore season, and that should be reflected in solid worldwide viewership on New Year’s Eve.
“We’ve increased our ratings overall significantly in terms of total viewership domestically and internationally,” Murray said. “Over 50 percent growth outside the U.S. Major, major growth because we were on Facebook Watch, which was a great platform, but now we’re on both linear and digital. In this upcoming event, we should absolutely have 3 million-plus viewers around the world.”
PFL’s reach was able to expand in large part thanks to its ESPN deal, which put the burgeoning promotion on platforms such as ESPN+ and ESPN2.
“Our deal with ESPN is major. When ESPN gets behind something, they do it right as the Worldwide Leader in sports,” Murray said. “They are the absolute leader in combat. We play a role on their platforms with a complementary product on a different night with a different format and it’s really all about growing the sport and driving engagement among these avid MMA fans.”
While new organizations have often struggled to maintain a solid foothold in the MMA landscape, PFL’s recent signing of former Bellator champion and UFC title challenger Rory MacDonald likely signals that it will be going strong heading into a third season in 2020.
Murray expects to see even more growth in the coming year.
“We’re 18-19 months old. We have a lot of momentum but we have a lot more to do,” Murray said. “We’re really passionate as a challenger brand and being disruptive in the sports space. We’ll play a major role in the next evolution of the growth of the spot. That’s how we look at it.”