You are here
Martin Lewandowski, director general, KSW
Polish MMA promotion KSW is entering the 15th year of its partnership with commercial and pay-television broadcaster Polsat – a key reason for its enduring popularity in the country. Martin Lewandowski speaks to TV Sports Markets about the promotion's past, present and future, and how it can remain number one despite the increasing presence of the UFC in Poland.
What have been the main reasons for KSW’s popularity, and what has enabled you to prevent the UFC from overtaking you in terms of popularity?
It wasn’t so good at the beginning! We started when MMA had a bad reputation and was associated with illegal fights and dog-fighting. We had to break all those stereotypes, and now we are succeeding with what we achieved. We did a show at the National Stadium which was the second-biggest MMA show in history*. But we started in deep shit! And it’s been 14 years of hard work to get here.
One of the reasons is that we, as KSW, are really passionate about it. The fighters and the media supported us from the beginning. They believed that it could be something big. We’re now bigger than boxing in Poland, we get the highest TV ratings and we sell the most TV PPVs.
There were many reasons, it’s not one or the other. Poland is a nation which loves fighting and, historically, we’ve always had to defend ourselves from Russians or Germans or whoever else. It fits the national narrative, and that has given us room to grow and build.
How did your partnership with Polsat begin?
Our first show was actually with Canal Plus, but it was tape delayed. Our second show was with Polsat. Thanks to working at the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw I met a lot of people from the top level of business, and that’s how I came across the director of Polsat Sport, Marian Kmita. We came with this idea to him and since I was working for the Marriott and it gave us a great venue for events, and he took this seriously.
Since that, we have been together. We started pay-per-view sales with Polsat which helped this branch of the business build in Poland, and we pioneered that. We are the pioneer of MMA and took the first step regarding PPV in this country. Polsat Sport are gaining out of it. They have become a good platform for the fighting industry and it’s why the UFC are there. The UFC did two shows in Poland thanks to us.
Your production levels have always been very high, especially considering that you are a local promotion. Who is responsible for this?
We do our own production, but we use equipment and hire staff from Polsat. I feel like that partnership is very important – why should I pay another company when I can pay my partner? It’s normal for us to negotiate on equipment and crew, but the relationship is very tight, and it’s a good deal. We ask for the cameras from Polsat, and we always want 12 or 13 of them.
You’ve been with Polsat for 14 years now. How do you negotiate your broadcast deals with them?
It depends – there is no rule. Sometimes we do Polsat for a year, sometimes three years. We are putting one extra show this year which isn’t in our current contract, so we’re just working on the additional agreement. It’ll go to them. It’s a very strong relationship. Polsat Sport is recognised as the biggest sport channel in Poland, and I believe they are an excellent MMA broadcaster. A couple of years ago there was only KSW here! We have our brick in that wall, as the pioneers of MMA in Poland, and we believe we have made Polsat a bigger brand in the fighting industry.
You have historically scheduled only four events per year. The UFC schedules up to 45 events per year. Why have you chosen to keep your schedule at this amount of events?
We created our event plan according to the needs of the market. I cannot compare my country and our gross revenue and salaries to the US market. It’s a totally different scale; a different universe. We can’t compete with that market. But here in Poland, we did it the way we felt would be right, and I think we were right that four huge events each year with excellent production is enough for the Polish market.
That does not mean we are not thinking of promoting smaller shows in Poland, and it also does not mean that we are not looking for expansion to other European markets. After all, it was us who beat the attendance record for the biggest MMA show in Europe, and the second-biggest show in MMA history.
We are increasing the number of events for this year. We’ll do five this year, and we plan to do more smaller shows in the future. But we’ll also go abroad. People like four events per year in Poland, but they want big, big events. Of course you could watch more on TV, but in terms of ticket sales and PPV, four is enough. We could do another four smaller shows which aren’t on the same level as the major events.
Are you at all worried that the UFC – your biggest competitor and a huge global promotion – is now on the same broadcaster as you?
I think UFC being on Polsat will help them. We’ll see how it goes. It might affect us, but we have a strong brand and we’ll see how it goes. They did two shows here in 2015 and 2017, and they didn’t succeed much. It wasn’t something the people from the MMA industry liked, they were disappointed. They thought a huge global organisation is coming to bring its best, but they didn’t. Being a Polish brand in Poland has great impact. Time will tell and the fans will decide which brand they prefer to watch. Ultimately, there is space for both here.
*The attendance of KSW 39 at Poland's National Stadium was 58,000, the second-largest of all time. The all-time record is 71,000 at Tokyo Stadium for Pride/K1 Shockwave 2002.