At a VIP party deep in the bowels of Newark’s Prudential Center, Simon Assaad navigated carefully to the bar, slipping past two hulking veterans of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He ordered a red wine and moved carefully through the crowd, settling behind a table where rapper Ice T was holding court. “These are not guys you want to bump the wrong way,” said Assaad.
Late nights were routine for Assaad back when he co-founded Heavy.com with David Carson in 1998. “Things are exciting now in New York tech, but it’s not the same,” said Assaad a little wistfully. “Silicon Alley in those days, we would be out till all hours of the night and then, this is a few years later, rush home to read FuckedCompany and see who got skewered.”
The duo got their start making ads for Ogilvy & Mather’s IBM e-business account before breaking into original content with the satirical, Behind The Music That Sucks. From there Heavy took off as destination site for dudes, surviving through the dark days of the dot-com crash by returning to its marketing roots. These days its homepage features Family Guy, The Daily Show and supermodels galore. Also, mixed martial arts, lots and lots of it.
“It’s the fastest growing sport in the world, and we want to put our mark on it,” said Assaad. Earlier in the afternoon he oversaw the filming of Heavy’s Fight Day, a streaming web show that previewed the night’s big events and interviewed some of the league’s top combatants.
“People are tweeting in and commenting live and we ask their questions on the air,” said Assaad. Heavy was commissioning user generated content as far back as 2006 and now mixes users input with high end production.The UFC has struggled with online piracy, which cuts deeply into the sales of Pay-Per-Views, their major source of revenue. The partnership with Heavy aims to improve the feeder: get the viewers engaged with Heavy pre-show on U-Stream, move them to the free video feeds on Facebook, then finally ask the fans to plunk down $50 for the fights.
Assaad says Heavy has begun incubating a few startups in house, although he admits it hard to wrangle talent when entrepreneurs are so well funded on their own. “There is definitely a migration away from the older digital agencies,” said Assaad. “Maybe the pay isn’t as good, but the promise is more. Startups are just, they’re sexy again.”