2009-09-24 / Local & State

UFC Has Pa. Pay-Per-View Promoter In Fighting Form

By John Anastasi

FEASTERVILLE, Pa. (AP) - Even though Joe Hand Promotions Inc. has sold closed-circuit pay-per-view sporting events to bars, clubs and other commercial establishments for decades, Jan. 17, 2005, was a watershed moment for the business.

That was the day that cable's Spike TV debuted its reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter.''

Joe Hand Promotions, based in Feasterville about 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia, had sold Ultimate Fighting Championship organization events since 2001, but when the show made its debut, it ushered in a mixed martial arts craze that is still growing.

"In 2001, we were in less than 100 locations,'' Joe Hand Jr. said of UFC events, which feature matches between fighters employing a variety of boxing, karate and wrestling techniques. "In 2005, we were in a couple hundred. We broke 1,000 in 2006, and in early 2008, we hit 2,000.''

Now, Joe Hand Promotions is bringing UFC pay-per-view fight nights to about 3,500 bars a month.

"They made that deal with Spike TV and our business just blew up because it got it in front of a certain demographic of fans _ men 18 to 35 years old,'' Joe Jr. said. "Suddenly, they were marketing it, more calls were coming in, and our pay-per-view numbers started to go up. Business has been really strong.''

Joe Hand Sr., who founded the promotions business in 1971, has been in boxing for more than 40 years.

In 1964, he became a charter member of the Cloverlay Corp., which helped Philadelphia fighter Joe Frazier's career. The walls of his Lower Southampton Industrial Park office are covered with photos taken with the likes of Frazier and Muhammad Ali, as well as old, autographed promotional pictures and posters.

At that time, boxing matches were occasionally broadcast on radio and television, but they were rarely shown in places where large crowds could gather to watch. Joe Sr. began purchasing the rights to live broadcasts of fights and, for a profit, arranging to have them shown in halls and civic centers where the public could watch the events for $6 a person.

"Dad was really a pioneer in this business,'' Joe Jr. said. "He didn't know people would come. He put his money on the line.''

In the early 1990s, cable companies gradually began offering pay-per-view opportunities to residential customers, which forced Joe Hand Promotions to shift its focus to sports bars and other businesses. The Hooters chain, which has about 400 locations, is a big client.

"We've done oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico,'' Joe Sr. said.

Joe Jr. said the sport of boxing tends to experience peaks and valleys, based on the fighters. It hit a great high during the Mike Tyson era, for instance. But the popularity of UFC fights tends to be more stable, as fans like the action no matter who's fighting, he added.

"As a business, that helps me,'' he said. "You have regularly scheduled events, you can do more with the product. It helps the bar owners with scheduling.''

Joe Hand Jr. said the business is always keeping an eye out for the next big thing that can be sold on pay-per-view and looking for ways to offer pay-per-view opportunities outside of the U.S.

"The exciting part is that our future as a company is based on the content and the programming,'' he said. "It was built on boxing but we're becoming more diversified. And so are the fans.''

"This is a great time in the history of our business,'' he said.

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