Jon Franklin was named CEO for Glory Sports International in August of 2014. To man the helm of the world’s largest kickboxing promotion, Franklin draws on a lifetime of experience in boxing promotion, sports marketing and management. Having worked with the promotion since Glory 4, Franklin has strategic plans to bring the promotion back on November 7th now that he is CEO. We ask how he got into sports management, promotion, and what he sees in the future of kickboxing.
SciFighting: How did you become the head of Glory International?
Franklin: I come from the boxing side of things. It might have been because I was the only person in the organization with gray hair so they figured “let’s find an old looking guy and make him CEO.” I’ve actually been working with Glory since before Glory 4. I put together the deal with CBS to air Glory 4 and Dream 18 on CBS Sports Network from Tokyo at the end of 2012. The way I got involved is that we did sales and production in the U.S. for Total Sports Asia. TSA is a diversified sports marketing company that focuses on international TV rights sales out of Malaysia. They actually led Glory to Andrew Whitaker, who was the CEO prior to me.
I had my finger in almost every part of Glory at one point because I worked on the first couple television deals in America. I also found sponsorships for them on the Road to Glory events and ultimately worked on all the major Glory events in one capacity or another. I had my finger in every part and knew enough about Glory to be dangerous. I was learning the full story.
Now I get this role.
SF: Tell us how you got into boxing promotion.
Franklin: After 15 years at sports marketing giant IMG, I worked for a boxing promotion company – America Presents. For a time I was President of the National Golden Gloves Marketing Group and promoted Golden Gloves events. Later, I had my own business and I was working with TSA on TV rights sales for AIBA, the Olympic boxing governing body. They had a couple promotions that I helped them sell to the US including putting the World Series of Boxing on Tuesday nights on Versus. TSA didn’t really have a significant presence in the USA. They came to us and said “Hey can you help get Glory on TV in America?”
If you’re gonna make it in the world, you really have to make it in America.
I was able to put together a deal that brought Glory 4 and Dream 18 to TV in the U.S. That was actually a great experience for me because I brought my wife and young son over to Tokyo for a week. We got to tour and visit some gyms.
Subsequent to that, I helped them manage the Road to Glory shows, including the one in Tulsa and the one in New York. We produced the television for those shows and acted as the ground activation team. We jumped into kickboxing with Road to Glory events on the management activation side and on the TV production side. Out of that, we helped them with activation of their first Glory event at Glory 9 New York, which was their first Glory event in the U.S. In addition to helping with the sales and marketing for that event, we got that one on television on CBS Sports Network. Out of that we signed a 4-5 fight deal with CBS Sports Network.
SF: We started covering Glory in 2013 when a lot of people were wondering about the state of kickboxing post-K-1.
Franklin: K-1 kind of has a checkered history which also involves Glory. I was a bit involved in K-1 and, since I’m an old guy, you brought that part of my life back. I was with IMG, the big sports marketing agency out of Cleveland from 1984-1999. I was a vice president there and ran one of the Olympic sports divisions, working on skiing, gymnastics and other sports. I believe I was the only person at IMG that ever was involved in combat sports or that even knew how combat sports were scored! Any time De La Hoya or Holyfield or whomever would come to IMG for representation, they would call me.
After leaving IMG, I went to work for a guy named Bill Daniels at a company called America Presents, which was a diversified sports marketing firm heavily involved in boxing. We managed David Tua, David Reid, Héctor Camacho Jr. and we had Bernard Hopkins for a short messy period of time. We also promoted a number of Mike Tyson fights between 1999 and 2002.
SF: You’ve worked in various levels of the IOC (International Olympic Committee). In your experience with them, was there any rhyme or reason for the decision to drop Greco-Roman wrestling for that short period of time … and then allow it back in again?
Franklin: There’s absolutely no logical reason for that. I think that the IOC exists as a very political organization and their various levels of executives and board actions are more complicated than I can understand.
What happened – if I had to analyze it – was that everybody was trying to push their various initiatives. They try to vote in levels and eliminate certain things as they go. Wrestling was on the ballot, but nobody thought that it would get voted out.
However, there were many other things happening politically with the different groups trying to muster votes and muster support from those committees. Wrestling did not have a political initiative going because everyone in the movement assumed wrestling was in. Because of that, they didn’t take the steps necessary to assure their votes. Wrestling just got inadvertently deprived of the votes that it needed to stay in.
Once that happened, everybody realized that you have to have a special initiative to make sure wrestling was in. I think it was an inadvertent happenstance from people supporting other sports and other initiatives.
SF: Do you think there’s a chance that kickboxing will make it’s way into the Olympics?
Franklin: It takes an incredible amount of lobbying to make something like that happen. I’m obviously a huge supporter. I’ve worked on a few other initiatives to bring other sports to the Olympics. It is a very arduous and expensive process. You have to fly out to the IOC executive committee meetings to put on demonstrations, lobby, get on the agenda, prepare presentations etc. All of that takes money.
SF: Kickboxing would seem to be a very marketable sport because it’s very action-packed. Also, it has the professionalism of boxing but with more dynamic flow. And the fight never goes to the ground like in MMA.
Franklin: I agree with you wholeheartedly on that. Not only is it a beautiful sport, but it seems to resonate with the public. At MMA events, people start booing when the fight hits the ground.
Contrast that with some of the great fights with Jon Jones that were standup for most of the time. If we can manage to bring those standup fights with non-stop action to the public, I believe it’s going to be embraced. Men love it, women love it, kids love it.
It’s a little more exciting and maybe a little bit less “dirty looking” than MMA. I think that Glory does have that more elegant feel and it’s something that can be built upon. I think it is exciting enough that the masses will embrace it. It’s fighting at high speed, with lots of action. Guys get KO’d at an amazing rate and generally in a very clean way.
You don’t have any of the bloody-looking faces and ground and pound like you do in MMA.
SF: Kickboxing would seem to have potential for a better draw than MMA because it has much fewer instances of bloodshed. Also, it’s faster-paced and just a lot cleaner.
Franklin: I remember watching the Mayweather-Canelo fight the whole evening on pay-per-view. These 8, 10, 12-round fights can be boring. You go to the bathroom or get a beer and come back and it’s like nothing’s changed.
Compare that with Glory or MMA where things happen quickly and guys get knocked out fast. It seems to be the way things have gone from a media standpoint. Glory and kickboxing would fit right in because people are taking their content in shorter and shorter bits all the time.
With that progression, it would seem the time for Glory is now.
SF: How are you changing Glory to meet that trend?
Franklin: I think the whole media world is struggling with that. A lot of media companies, not just combat sports, are struggling with how much content they can sell, what they have to give away for free and what platforms they should put it on. I made a strategic decision at Glory to move over all the content that we own in bits and pieces to YouTube so people can watch it for free. We can monetize it in a small way through YouTube advertising programs rather than store it and have it sit around where nobody sees it. I looked at it and said, “wow, we have all this great content that we want to bring to our fans. Let’s get it out there so people can enjoy it and maybe we’ll make a little bit of money off the YouTube advertising.”
If nothing else, we’re building our brand for the future to monetize things down the road, but you can’t monetize something that you haven’t built.