Selling Tickets: Fighting on the Local Circuit

By Kaitlin Young

I get it, it’s annoying. It takes away from your final preparation and everyone seems to need them the day or two before your fight, as you are trying to cut weight. You are the fighter. It’s your job to fight. Shouldn’t it be the promoter’s job to sell the tickets? Well, yes, it is. It is also their job to book the fights. If booking certain fights makes the job of selling tickets easier, there is great incentive to do just that.

Should Fighters Sell Tickets for Their Own Fights?

I’d like to address some questions and comments we hear a lot regarding fighters selling tickets for their own fights. As with most things in life, we understand them a little better when we’ve been on both sides. Parent/child, manager/employee, etc. I’ve had the privilege of being both a matchmaker and a fighter on the local and international level. Today my ramblings will focus on the local scene, but we are starting to see it in the lower levels of top promotions as well.

When you first start fighting, the last thing on your mind is the business aspect of the industry. Keeping it in mind will help you gain fight experience. When we are asked to sell tickets, at least in my view, it is less of a demand and more of a suggestion as to how we can help ourselves gain opportunity.

There are several situations in which you will not be expected to sell tickets:

1)If you compete at national, international, or pro-am tournaments, where you pay your own way there and have to fight anyone (beast, bum, or no-show) that comes your way, you will never be expected to sell tickets.

2) If you are willing to go fight a killer and/or ticket seller in their own back yard, you will not be expected to sell tickets. Your opponent will take care of the ticket sales for you.

3)If you are competing at the *top level* of a top-level promotion, you will not be required to sell tickets. Even here, a strong following on social media and popularity that translates into “PPV buys” or tickets at the gate will help you have more fight opportunities as well, but again, you won’t be asked to directly sell the tickets.

If you don’t want to spend several thousand dollars a year getting to/from competitions, don’t want to be subjected to super hard fights and potentially biased judges, or aren’t yet in the top percentage of your sport, then you are going to have to be able to put butts in seats to stay busy.

But I’m the Best Guy/Girl Around Here! Shouldn’t it be Easy For me to Get Fights?

One would think so, but the opposite tends to be true. If you are a local pro or a high level ammy with a bunch of violent finishes, you are a nightmare to match. In a bigger organization, more serious fighters will look at you as a challenge they can beat to climb the ranks. They’ll happily fight you. In a local show, you are a very tough fight with hometown judges and present a high likelihood of giving this person a concussion. What’s in it for the opponent? A challenge, sure, but there are FAR more fighters that would like to beat someone up rather than take a real fight. In order to match you, it is going to cost a significant amount of money. If you are professional, it will be a sizable fight purse, flights for your opponent and corner, hotel, etc. and then your purse on top of it. What if that person pulls out? Then the hundreds spent on posters and promotional materials are down the drain, the flights need to be cancelled and the matchmaker is left scrambling for another opponent with the stones to fight you, only to have to pay more to get them to take it on short notice and book flights at the last minute. Unless you are selling a boatload of tickets, it is not a risk that makes sense. The same is true if you are a pro that desires to be protected from tough fights. There are only so many people that will fall into your window of what is acceptable, and again, all the same costs will apply.

In that same vein, if you are very good but not ranked (as in, beating you wouldn’t do much for the other person’s career) it is highly unlikely you’ll be brought in to fight the hometown guy or gal. If you luck out and happen to get a main eventer who only wants to fight tough competition, great! As discussed above, that is not the norm and can’t be counted upon to happen.

It can be really frustrating to see less skilled fighters that have a bigger social network (i.e. lots of time out with friends and less time in the gym) get more opportunities. In terms of risk vs reward, it makes all kinds of sense for a local show to match such a person. There will be little to no cost in finding an opponent, and the fight will net far more income. Again, a local show is not likely trying to be the best promotion in the world. They are trying to be a good promotion and stay above water, hopefully helping the sport develop along the way.

Promoters Only Care About Money!

Sure, they care about it, but it certainly isn’t the only consideration being made. Would you do your job for free, or at a loss? Probably not. Fight promotions aren’t charities. There are plenty of caring promoters that go out of their way to help fighters, sometimes at a loss. There are also plenty of shady ones. Don’t confuse a promoter’s desire to have their show make money with them being shady (more on that later). If the show is unable to stay afloat, you and all your teammates will have one less place to fight. As a promoter, they need to protect the interest of the company, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is to the detriment of the athletes. Watch carefully and know the difference.

While any tickets sold for the event help cover the expenses of the athletes alone, they also cover the shared expenses of the show. Renting the venue costs money, as does the commission and/or sanctioning body, the staff, the ring or cage and it’s setup, the tickets and posters that are printed, the lights, the production, the table and chair rental, the DJ, the ring girls/guys, the ambulance, the ringside doctors and time keeper, the insurance to make sure you don’t bust your hand and lose money trying to get it fixed, police and security, and the list goes on and on. All of this is in addition to fight purses and travel expenses.

Alcohol sales matter as well. Sick of all the long drawn out intermissions? Buy a drink or three. That is generally the purpose of dragging a show on. Many venues offer a lower price because X amount of liquor sales are tied into the deal. If the show fails to hit the liquor minimum, the deal falls through and costs the promoter significantly more to rent the space. I have been working with a local show that recently began promoting Muay Thai. Initially, the venue was very happy with the lack of rowdiness from the crowd and decreased need for security, until it became apparent that it was at least partly due to a 66% drop in liquor sales as compared to similar MMA shows. Ouch! As you might expect, we lost the previous deal as a result.

Martial Artists are Supposed to be Humble! I Don’t Want to Brag or Draw a Bunch of Attention to Myself.

Let’s just get that out of the way right now: if you are spending hours a day working on something for years on end, you are awesome at it. There are varying degrees of awesome, but at the very least you are fun to watch. It’s ok to admit that and invite others to enjoy the result of your hard work. You can do it in a way that represents your personality, of course, but “speaking the truth” and arrogance are two very different things.

If you are booked to fight, and your opponent falls out on short notice, the promoter now must choose to either scramble to get you someone or pull you from the card. Sometimes it is an easy fix and they’ll have someone locally, especially if you are new. If you are an A-class amateur or a professional, nine times out of 10 this means forking over some $$$ to get someone from out of town. If you have not said a peep on social media, or somehow shown that you are at least trying to promote the show, why should they go in the hole to help you out? You’ve been demonstrating that you are not all that invested in your fight, at least outwardly. What if they get someone from out of town for you and then and you drop? (This is pretty common when fighters don’t post anything, by the way… to be continued in another blog about fun things matchmakers learn). They get to either leave that person high and dry, which nobody wants to do, or they end up spending money to pit two out-of-towners against each other in what might be a great fight, but has absolutely no financial return.

Why Would it Matter if I Fight on Other Local Shows?

It can matter for a few reasons. Some promoters don’t give a percentage of ticket sales to the fighters, nor do they require medicals (then having to either pay someone or take the time to manage them – it’s a headache), or they might only cover a bare minimum of insurance and possibly none at all depending on the state, and they may not have an ambulance present in case the worst were to happen.  All of these are expenses incurred by the promoter to take care of the athletes – or not.

Even as an amateur, these are factors that you, or at the very least your coach, should be aware of. As fighters, many times we just want to fight. We want to stay active. That is understandable. If a promotion is running a show with the same level of professionalism as an in-house smoker event, yet charging your friends and family the same as a real show for admission, that is something that should be taken into consideration. They are taking shortcuts with your health, safety, etc. and as a result, profiting from your fight more than the promoter that puts these benefits into the budget.

Sometimes, promoters will choose not to tell a fighter their opponent has dropped, or not look for a replacement, and sometimes they refuse to refund tickets should a fight fall through. All of these are problematic, especially if they continue to happen to the same person over and over again. In addition to wasting time and effort on missed opportunities, it will make people shy away from committing to coming to their fights. They’ll wait to get tickets at the door or decide to just skip it because Billy’s fights have fallen through the last couple of times, so they don’t want to get their hopes up. That hurts the fighter’s value on the local circuit, and it is through no fault of their own. It’s a bit normal for fights to fall through as a fighter begins to develop and become more intimidating. There is a lot of variation in how this is handled by promoters, and it is important that you and your team to take note.

The other detrimental behavior to watch for from promoters is “accidental” miscommunication of fight terms. This can happen with weight, rules, gear, round time limits, etc. We’ve seen it all. Sometimes there is a legitimate miscommunication, BUT as with any relationship in life, patterns are key to identifying intention. This promoter knows fighter A and fighter B really want to fight. They were told two different sets of circumstances, only to realize once arriving at the venue (sometimes with contracts in hand) that the other was told something different. They’ve both sold a bunch of tickets, and all their friends are waiting to watch them. Are fighter A and fighter B going to skip fighting? Of course not. They are going to compromise one way or another – hopefully meeting in the middle if both are reasonable. The promoter knows this. He might also know that neither fighter would’ve accepted these terms in the first place. They would have just requested a different opponent (that possibly had a different market value ) under their preferred rules set or weight. However, now they are on the spot, both having worked hard for months to arrive at this moment. They are going to fight, and the promoter makes the money from the bout. It was just a “mistake.”  Or was it?

Rewarding the decisions and behaviors referenced above is certainly not something any of us want to do. This is all the more true if they are in direct competition with promotions that don’t continually put fighters and coaches in a bad position. With that being said, every fighter has a window for competition that will one day close. They need to compete frequently, if they can. It is best to tread carefully and choose wisely, being sure to understand why you have decided to compete for a promotion at any given time. Until you have learned the game well enough to navigate on your own, please allow a coach who cares about you to shoulder that burden. If a matchmaker continues to speak with you directly and privately, rather than have your coach involved, there may very well be a good reason for that preference.

Why Do I Need to Sell Tickets?

You don’t really have to, but it can be a great tool that will help you toward accomplishing your goals in fighting. You can still fight without ever selling tickets, but it will be a harder road. It is good for development to have a mix of experiences – fight some at home, some overseas, and some in your favorite tournament. Become a skilled sailor. Learn to conquer the fear and the pressure of each unique situation. Whether you just want to have a couple of fun match ups or become the best in the world, the crowd you bring with you can be a heavy bargaining chip.