With an action-packed card this weekend, KSW is preparing to be the first major MMA promotion outside of the Americas to return to live-action.
Ahead of the event, we spoke to the company’s CEO Martin Lewandowski, who revealed the challenges involved and why the comeback is so crucial for the firm.
InsiderSport: What have been the challenges with setting up and running an event during the global health pandemic?
Martin Lewandowski: First of all, this has been a completely unique situation for the sports world. Like you see in the English Premiership and other returning sports leagues, we will be doing our event on Saturday in front of no public crowd. Arranging a show like this has been like solving a puzzle. KSW consistently has a 10,000+ attendance at every event, so this is a big chunk of revenue we will lose out on.
Thankfully though we consistently perform really well with our PPV model and have really strong broadcast partners, both domestically and internationally. This has allowed us to adapt to the current situation.
Also coming from the pandemic there are a number of government travel restrictions and we had to adapt our fight card to feature mainly Polish fighters aside from Norman Parke (Northern Ireland) and Fiip Pejic (Croatia). But we have managed to put together a very strong event with a big title unification bout between Parke and his rival Mateusz Gamrot in the main event. Two Polish stars, Marcin Wrzosek & Borys Mankowski, meet in the co-main event and we have the return of Polish legend Tomasz Drwal.
InsiderSport: How crucial is it for MMA promotions, such as yourself, to begin running promotions again following the global health pandemic?
ML: I think it is crucial for any business to begin running again. You see various major multinational corporations and SMEs all over the world closing down branches and going out of business. The pandemic has really hit the global economy.
Thankfully KSW has been in a healthy financial situation and we have adapted a business model which has got us back up and running starting with KSW 53 this weekend. We have a full roster of fighters, staff who are both part and full-time, and third-party contract providers who rely on our events, so it is very important to get back to doing events so people are earning a living again.
InsiderSport: With the UFC being the first major sports promotion to come back following the pandemic, how much of a spotlight is on MMA at the moment and how can you build on this?
ML: Well as I said, the English Premiership and other sports leagues like the German Bundesliga are all running their competitions. The UFC received that initial attention from press and media but now I feel like things are getting back to normal somewhat across the business of sport. But it was good to see MMA take the global attention of the sporting world.
KSW 53 I believe will be the first major MMA event outside of the Americas to take place since the pandemic hit and definitely the first major event in Europe, so there will be focus on us to a certain degree. This is good because we have an action-packed schedule throughout the remainder of 2020 and we need to make up for lost time. This will give us a nice platform to kick-off from.
InsiderSport: With the absence of live-action, what have you done to keep fans engaged throughout the pandemic?
ML: We have been very successful with our fan engagement throughout this pandemic. In Poland, where we are based, we launched our new reality TV show called ‘Tylko Jeden’ (translation means ‘Only One’) in which fighters compete each week with the winner at the finale getting a KSW contract. This was a hit in Poland and was one of the most-watched TV programmes in Poland throughout the whole season.
We also launched the KSW App on iOS and Android connecting fans closer to the KSW world. Through our social media we ran a wide variety of fan engagement activities such as live Q and As with fighters, reaction videos, and streaming past events, creating millions of engagements and impressions across our platforms. Our YouTube has also grown to over 310k subscribers. This fan building will also have a positive knock-on effect for when we return with our live events throughout the remainder of the year.
Also during this time we received two official World MMA Award nominations – ‘Best Promotion’ for the fourth year in a row and I’ve been nominated for ‘Leading Man’ for the third straight year. So although there were no events, we have been kept pretty busy.
InsiderSport: Can you tell us more about your global broadcast partnerships and how you engage different global audiences?
ML: In Poland we are on Polsat Sports, in the US we are on DAZN, in Croatia we are on RTL, BILD in Germany, in Canada and various other markets we are on The Fight Network, and we are on MatchTV in Russia and other regions. Then we have our own online PPV platform www.KSWTV.com which allows anyone with an internet connection to watch KSW events live from anywhere in the world and we also work with FITE.tv.
Each market or region requires tailored approaches. For example in Poland we are one of the most recognisable sports brands in the country, in fact we beat the Polish FA in national sports awards a couple of years ago. So we have various national media partners and we have ‘mainstream’ appeal.
In Croatia we have a big following thanks to our roster of fighters from this region like Roberto Soldic and Antun Racic – who are also both champions in KSW – and we have major broadcast and media partners in the region as well as cross-promotional relationships with the likes of Dinamo Zagreb.
We are recreating this in each region and thanks to the help of Alan Murphy and his sports marketing firm Murphy Sports Marketing our continental and international growth is consistently growing all the time.
InsiderSport: What are the regulations you are having to abide by to ensure that the event remains safe and secure for all parties involved?
ML: As I said previously, we have restricted the fighters travelling from abroad to events and no non-EU fighters will be competing while some staff are working remotely. The event itself will also be in a studio environment with no public audience and only essential staff present. The build time or the set up of the venue has been arranged so that different departments work at different times so as to not overlap and to keep everyone apart.
Sanitation staff will sweep the venue consistently before, during, and after the event and there will be multiple sanitation stations located throughout. Our athletes will have been tested a number of times throughout the weeks leading up to fight night and after the event.
Essentially we have adhered to all Polish government regulations and then took some extra precautions ourselves to ensure the maximum safety for fighters and staff.