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MMA Upstart Professional Fighters League Hires Fox Sports Veteran George Greenberg (EXCLUSIVE)

Will Blair, former WME/IMG exec, joins league as head of sponsorship and revenue partnerships

The Professional Fighters League, which is trying to land a bigger punch in the mixed-martial arts world, has hired veteran TV sports executive George Greenberg to oversee broadcast production.

Greenberg spent 23 years at Fox Sports and Fox Broadcasting. Most recently he was executive VP of content integration and presentation, overseeing content integration flow within all Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 programs, and supervising UFC production efforts, Fox studio directors, and Premier Boxing Championships.

The PFL also has hired Will Blair, formerly senior VP of partnership development at WME/IMG, as EVP of sponsorship and revenue partnerships.

“As the Professional Fighters League charges ahead toward our January debut, we are adding elite leadership to our already outstanding staff,” said Carlos Silva, president of business operations and event production.

The PFL was co-founded by hedge-fund manager Russ Ramsey, along with VC investors Donn Davis and Mark Leschly. Based in Washington, D.C., the Professional Fighters League purchased the operations and event infrastructure of the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) in January 2017 and currently has over 100 pro MMA fighters under exclusive contract. The league plans to kick off its inaugural season in January 2018, with 84 fighters in seven weight classes and a post-season prize purse totaling $10 million.

Currently, the PFL has a TV deal with NBCUniversal’s NBCSN through December 2017. The league is in negotiations with potential broadcast partners for 2018 and beyond.

In 1994, Greenberg was part of the team that launched Fox Sports and during his career has overseen conception and production of Fox and Fox Sports broadcasts of the NFL, MLB and NHL. Prior to that, he was a producer and director at ABC Sports, where he worked on broadcasts of Summer and Winter Olympic Games in 1984 and the Winter Games in 1988.

“George is a pioneer in television sports production, having created revolutionary concepts that are now standard TV practice,” Silva said in announcing his hire. “His addition to the Professional Fighters League as Executive Producer means MMA fans can expect an innovative, accessible, and compelling product for 2018 unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.”

The PFL is betting on several factors to stand out from UFC — the MMA sector’s heavyweight, which WME/IMG bought last year for $4 billion — and others like Bellator MMA. For starters, the Professional Fighters League is structured as a true league with a playoff format that lets fighters advance based on their win record: “The athletes are in control of their destiny,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg, who is based in L.A., also sees the opportunity to lead with storytelling about the league’s roster of fighters. “What is most important is going to be our television presentation, the stories we tell,” he said. “Without the backstories of these incredible athletes, you just have a bunch of robots fighting.”

And, according to Greenberg, the PFL will deliver a unique, interactive experience across TV and mobile devices that integrates social and data analytics features. “For me it’s a wonderful opportunity to define what this brand and viewer and user experience will be,” he said. “The PFL is going to allow us to make a visual statement — with camera placement, use of graphics, our cross-platform strategy, and the talent we hire.”

Blair, meanwhile, joins the PFL to lead all sales sponsorships and revenue partnerships. At WME/IMG, he represented the firm’s sports and entertainment portfolio to brand marketers in major relationships, and previously worked for over a decade at Turner Sports. He also is a former football scholarship athlete who holds a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University. “The Professional Fighters League has the vision and product that is ideal for forging game-changing partnerships with major brands and companies,” he said in a statement.

Watch the PFL’s announcement from April about the formation of the league:

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