The Professional Fighters League is on hold for now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not making moves.
Last month, the league announced the launch of PFL Studios, and on Tuesday, it made official the addition of former ONE Championship public relations head Loren Mack as its new vice president of corporate communications. It’s part of the PFL’s plan to expand beyond just its in-cage product as it works through having had to cancel its 2020 season.
In addition to his time with ONE, Mack’s involvement in MMA started with working with the UFC and he has been involved in PR and marketing for over 15 years. According to Mack, his joining the PFL was a matter of happenstance as what he expected to be a short conversation with league owner Donn Davis turned into a fresh career opportunity for the native New Yorker.
(Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and structure.)
What are your first impressions of PFL management so far?
[CEO Peter Murray’s] understanding of sports media and entertainment is at a scale that I’ve never been involved with. He’s a top entrepreneur and an incredible leader, so that’s the first two vibes you get. He is unreal when it comes to sports media and entertainment and that speaks a lot because what he’s done with the PFL in just a short period of time is remarkable. When you take a step back you look at the distribution deal on ESPN. It’s unheard of for a two-plus-year-old company to broadcast in 160 countries, that’s not easy to get going. The production is world-class.
The team that Pete Murray’s put together. We would think that it’s just part of the day-to-day business, it’s hard to do that. His executive producer is a 16-time Emmy Award winning producer, George Greenberg. It’s very difficult, but that’s why the product looks as incredible as it does. That’s why you can have PFL Studios and put together remarkable content like a Randy Couture series or a Rory MacDonald series the way that they did it, that’s very hard to put together. We’ve got a great matchmaker in Ray Sefo. His social media guy, he comes from a music background, dealing with names like Rihanna and Steve Aoki.
The PFL is adding new OTT (over-the-top) distribution, so what does that mean for fans?
They’re going to have their own direct-to-consumer application where 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anywhere in the world with your mobile device, your tablet, streaming on your TV, you can get never-before-seen PFL content and probably the best produced sports content out there through PFL studios. So some of the groundbreaking series on Rory MacDonald, there’s a series coming out on Randy Couture, one of the great legends and commentators for the PFL.
Out of every fighter I’ve ever dealt with in over 15 years, Randy Couture is probably my favorite. I always hate to single it out, but he is truly, truly a remarkable person, a phenom of athlete. What he did for the sport I couldn’t even say in words, so to have a series on him, a four-part series, with George Greenberg producing it, is gonna be awesome.
Is this subscription-based, how does it work?
Right now it’s not. Right now it’s free for everybody. You’re going to be able to go on their application, their OTT platform and be able to connect with PFL content anytime you want. It’s really an incredible opportunity for everybody around the world who’s a fan of mixed martial arts, a fan of PFL, and you’re gonna have that right at your disposal at all times, so it’s pretty cool.
What are some things you learned about OTT distribution while working with ONE?
One thing I did learn in that regard, in a region like Asia that has such a young demographic; Africa, very young demographic. They skipped every type of electronic device and went right to a mobile phone. So there’s nothing more important than that application.
But what I also think is unique about the PFL is not just world-class fights, knockouts, submissions, which is awesome, but it’s also the shoulder programming. It’s the other content that’s being produced by PFL Studios. So I think that reaches a much, much broader demographic and it reaches a much more mainstream audience. That’s really what I see as the opportunity with the OTT platform.
Why do you think the PFL season and playoffs structure is going to appeal to international markets more than the traditional prizefighting matchmaking strategies that we’re used to in North America?
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned working overseas for almost 10 years is that outside of the hardcore fans and even within the hardcore fanbase, the consumer has a very tough time following the sport. They didn’t quite understand why this match was made or what this organization meant, why it was structured the way it was structured. I think ultimately that has prevented the sport from growing the way that it should.
One demand that I consistently heard is, ‘Why don’t you do something similar to an NFL, an NBA, etc., and have a league?’ So I think PFL’s opportunity with the league format, where a fan can follow their favorite athlete from beginning, middle, an end, with the end prize being a million-dollar check, is gonna resonate more so than any other organization that’s been over in a region like Asia or Africa, parts of Europe, because that’s normally how sports are consumed, a league format. Maybe it’s unique to the United States, although I see it taking off and continuing to take off, I think the opportunity overseas is tremendous. It translates so well to what the consumer has been demanding already. I see the PFL having international events much sooner rather than later.
Did you get the sense from the recent ONE tournaments that fans were responding more strongly to that structure?
What I see is that the UFC for the last several years has had 98 percent of the market share in Asia. The reason being is they were the first to get there and I would say they just were able to crack China with a Chinese champion, they’ve done a great job. What follows is a lot of ‘me too,’ a lot of ‘me too’ organizations. I think the PFL brings a very exciting format, world-class production, world-class athletes, that is going to translate and transcend every part of the world including Asia.
I think that has already happened in the United States. I think PFL is the second-biggest player out there and I think they have the potential to be the biggest. I certainly think they’re the most innovative and fastest-growing league right now and once they get into markets like they can and they will and they’ve already started to, I think that the PFL is gonna take off and it’s gonna blow people away.
What can you tell us about other upcoming broadcasting deals?
I can tell you that they have a huge deal in the works in Russia. It’s gonna be a ground-breaking deal. It’s basically really expanding on the international distribution. A lot of the top athletes are coming from Russia, it’s a tremendous hotbed for martial arts and it’s just gonna be an awesome opportunity for the PFL to continue to expand. Within the next few weeks, we’ll have all the details and the details are beyond exciting. It’s not your traditional TV deal, there are so many exciting elements to it.
What are your thoughts on the Lance Palmer situation (Palmer is demanding his release from the PFL due to a statement the league issued over controversial comments his father made on social media as well as not wanting to have to wait until the 2021 season to fight again) and how that’s been handled so far?
At PFL, they prioritize safety. We’re living in a very uncertain time and I think the idea that safety is first and foremost is truly remarkable and I think that the vast majority of people respect that and respect their decisions…
They also stand by what is right and what is—I’m not even sure how to put it. Listen, the people at PFL are remarkable people and they put values, safety, humanity, first and foremost. For me it’s a relief to be associated with an organization that practices what they preach. That’s really what I have to say about that.
What would you say to fans in regards to fighters expressing their concerns (manager Malki Kawa has also requested that clients Brendan Loughnane and Justin Willis be released from their PFL contracts) about not being able to compete until next season and who are unhappy with the monthly stipend?
I think right now it’s a very difficult time with COVID for every sport, every business, and government. It’s a tough time.
A lot of people are hurting, a lot of people are uncertain, and I think that’s why now, more than ever, good leadership is critical. And I think PFL has that. They’ve got a variety of other different opportunities in terms of incredible content that they’re putting out for the fans. They’re already extremely excited about 2021. They’ve done a great job in a difficult situation and I definitely stand by their decisions.
How much negotiation do you think there can be regarding the stipend or the possibility of fighting outside of the PFL?
It’s not my world in regards to that, but what I’ll say is that the athletes that are involved with the PFL are extremely happy to be involved with the organization. I’ve heard, prior to even joining, an incredible amount of awesome things about the organization.
They offer a unique structure for athletes. … They know what it takes to advance and they know at the end if they advance it’s a million-dollar check. That is an awesome situation for most athletes and I think the vast majority would agree with me on that and agree with how the PFL has handled a difficult situation. I think they’ve done a great job with it.