Showtime Sports Executive Vice President and General Manager Stephen Espinoza said in a Jan. 8 MMA Junkie report that the network is intent to stay in the MMA business, even after Strikeforce's final show on Jan. 12.
"Going forward, we would have to be comfortable that whatever promoter or promoters we were going into business with that there is a sufficient talent base to put on the number of events that we were talking about," he said.
Enter Invicta FC, a fledgling MMA promotion that has grown into a true powerhouse just one year into its existence.
Invicta's most recent event, a Jan. 5 card that featured marketable stars like Bec Hyatt, Shayna Baszler and Paige VanZant, had such high demand that it crashed the credit card server of the company processing the Invicta FC 4 pay-per-view sales.
"More than 70,000 people joined the broadcast after the event was changed from a pay-per-view to free stream, and that was likely after many gave up on being able to watch the fights due to the payment delays," Bleacher Report columnist Sean Smith wrote of Invicta FC 4.
The first three Invicta events drew an average of over 200,000 viewers, and undoubtedly would have drawn more if the cards were televised.
Strikeforce's demise and Invicta's growing popularity seems like some kind of cosmic alignment coming together at exactly the right moment.
"We hit a patch where we were just getting injury after injury, and things become more than just an isolated incident, but really a trend that reveals a talent-pool issue," Espinoza said of the issues that led to the network opting to not renew its contract with Strikeforce.
Espinoza said one way the network could deal with concerns about organizational stability is to strike agreements to broadcast more than one MMA league.
"If you look at one small regional promoter and an exclusive deal with them, it probably wouldn't make sense because we wouldn't be able to sustain more than one or two events a year," he said.
Showtime was one of the pioneers in the development of women's MMA. It's broadcast of Strikeforce 39 propelled Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey into the UFC and into the households of homes across the nation.
Current Invicta FC stars like Alexis Davis and Sarah Kaufman have already been featured on Showtime on Strikeforce cards, so there's an existing relationship in place. Showtime viewers are already familiar with women's MMA, and with some of the fighters who currently compete in the Invicta ranks.
"Did we lose a ton of revenue? I would definitely say we did, with the data that's available," Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp said of Invicta FC 4's pay-per-view mishap. "But we've got to keep moving forward, and hopefully, we're going to secure a broadcast partner that will give us a stable platform to continue to deliver an amazing product."
It's now up to Showtime to step up to secure the broadcast rights to up-and-coming stars like Hyatt, VanZant and the rest of the talented ladies of Invicta FC.