The Professional Fighters League officially postponed its 2020 season on Monday because of the global impact of the coronavirus.
The PFL is the first major MMA organization to formally announce a plan for the rest of 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus. The UFC has been bullish with its efforts to resume a regular schedule, including a targeted event on May 9 at an undisclosed location. Bellator MMA has postponed all events scheduled through at least June 1.
PFL CEO Peter Murray said the PFL will refocus on live events in 2021, while exploring the possibility of one-off special events down the line.
Murray offered several more details on the PFL's decision to ESPN on Monday.
ESPN: How did you arrive at this decision?
Murray: PFL is a global MMA league, with athletes from over 25 countries. Our team decided first and foremost, for the health and safety of our fighters, fans, business partners, and event personnel, with so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we determined this is the best course of action. It's prudent and it's been guided by safety. Our decision is to push the upcoming season, which was previously scheduled to begin in May, to spring 2021 on ESPN.
Our season format is unique to MMA. Our fighters compete in a regular season, playoff and championship. Earning a title in the PFL requires a fighter to fight five times over a six-month window. Our focus is to maintain the integrity of our season format. We have two seasons under our belt and are coming off an incredible season of success with a lot of momentum. Our view was to stay the course, advance the sport, lead with our format as a differentiator, technology as a differentiator and storytelling as a differentiator.
In the meantime, fans want sports and compelling content. We will provide that to our broadcast partner in ESPN the remainder of 2020. We'll be reliving the 2019 season, but through a different lens -- a fresh take from inside the PFL, what it takes from the athletes' point of view and the league office point of view. We're developing an episodic series and other content, including a project with MMA legend and commentator Randy Couture, which fans will see beginning in the second quarter of this year.
The PFL has committed to a monthly stipend for its contracted athletes. What other details can you provide on that?
We're going to support them and their families. We'll be providing a monthly, cash stipend, and we'll get into those details at a later date. There is a process to rolling that out, as you can imagine, but we'll be sharing those particulars with athletes very, very soon -- within the week.
The communicative process starts with our business partners and is now underway with our athletes. There aren't too many organizations in sports right now that have a definitive plan. We believe we're well-positioned to get through this challenging time and come out stronger.
If any athletes under contract wish to look for opportunities to compete elsewhere in 2020, how open are you to that?
No. 1, we're providing them certainty that they will fight for the PFL in our next season in 2021. And in the meantime, we are going to provide that monthly stipend. That's the plan we're focused on right now, and we'll continue to have ongoing conversations with the fighters.
What are the chances we could see the PFL promote a non-season live event in 2020?
We would never say never, but we're focused on rolling out this plan right now. As we evaluate the landscape, we'll continue to be opportunistic when it comes to the potential around special events, but that's not our focus at this time.
As you continue to monitor the landscape of live events, would you consider holding one with no audience?
We will absolutely do that. MMA is a unique sport in terms of its ability to bring fans inside the cage unlike any other sport. We believe MMA, and PFL, is well-positioned for that. We're always focused on delivering innovative, compelling, made-for-TV experiences. Now that we look ahead -- we all want sports back. When sports do come back, it will illustrate we are starting to get back to normal, but that normal will be with a different phasing approach that is made-for-TV. PFL will focus on that and deliver that.
What can you say about the status of your staff, as it relates to your decision to postpone a full season?
We're entrepreneurs, this entire team. We have a fantastic leadership team. And as it relates to the operating side, we're nimble. You're faced with challenges, you assess the landscape and you adapt quickly. We feel really good about our decision to execute this new plan in 2020, and next year, put our energy into continuing to evolve our season format. We're actually hard at work at new innovation. We're in the bunker developing new innovation to roll out, so we're plenty busy.