Lights Out XF With Shawne Merriman, Founder And CEO And Former NFL Star
Welcome to the FanPower Podcast. In this episode, I talk to Shawne Merriman, former NFL Great and current Founder and CEO of Lights Out XF, about his new start-up league, the importance of the “fan,” and how he wants to take Lights Out XF to the next level.
Lights Out XF
Shawne Merriman is the founding CEO of the Lights Out brand, an analyst at Fox Sports, and a former linebacker for eight seasons in the National Football League (NFL) with the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills.
He is also the founder of the Lights On Foundation, which provides winter wear for those less fortunate in the Maryland area.
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Hello and welcome to the FanPower podcast, where we talk about fan engagement through the lens of data. Today, we are joined by Shawne Merriman. I’m excited to have this conversation, with former All-Pro, Pro Bowl NFL linebacker, current entrepreneur, founder, CEO and operator of Lights Out XF. Sean, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for making the time.
Thanks, man. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Absolutely. And to the audience, you can see the graphic at the bottom if you want to stay up-to-date on all things, Lights Out. After you learn from Shawne what it’s all about, text L-X-F to 31032, and we’ll keep you posted on all things Lights Out.
Alright, Shawne. Well, let’s jump right into it. So, we know your background. You’re moving on to this new chapter. You’ve moved on to this new chapter. Lights Out XF was started in 2019. Tell us, where it’s at. Give us the overview, tell us about Lights Out XF.
Yeah, man. Lights Out Xtreme Fighting. We got a big fight coming up actually in LA on May 6 starting at 4 p.m. Pacific. So, if you guys are in LA or in the LA area in Burbank, make sure you come out to it. You can get your tickets at lightsoutxf.com. If you can’t make it to the fight, you can check us out live on Fubo TV Sports, so if you don’t have Fubo, get it.
That part for me has been fun, because this last fight that we just had in January had cracked into Fubo Sports top 10 most-watched all-time. You know, they got a bunch of great programming on there, obviously huge international soccer. So for us to be creeping up in that circle, it has really been cool.
Yeah. Well, you guys are making a big impact, right? MMA is taking off in this country.
Let’s talk a little bit about the, the back story. So tell us the quick story of how you made the transition from, NFL athlete to an MMA fighter and now to an entrepreneur, building one of the biggest and most exciting leagues in the space.
So I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in the DMV area. So when I grew up, there was ton of champion boxers from where I am. My uncles were boxers, professional boxers. So, naturally, I gravitated and grew up just boxing in general.
I had the football route. I went to Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboto, Maryland, and committed to the University of Maryland as a junior, verbally committed. Played there three years, had a great career.
Getting drafted to the West Coast by the Chargers in 2005, that’s around the same time that MMA started to come on the scene, with Strikeforce and UFC. Around that time period is where it started to kind of pick up some steam with the whole Contender show and reality TV. That whole circle started to pick up.
got getting drafted to the West Coast by the Chargers in 2005.
So, one day I’m in the gym with my friend, Jay Glazer over at Fox Sports. I’m working out, and he says, ‘Hey, I know you grew up boxing, bug have you ever tried MMA? I think it can help you out in football. I think it can help your hand-eye coordination and being able to be more active as an outside linebacker, pass rusher.’ In my head, I’m saying, ‘Hey, whatever I need to do to be a better football player, tell me, what do I have to do?’
He ended up texting me an address the next day. He said, ‘Meet me here at this address in the gym. We’re gonna work through some MMA movements, some pummeling, and some jujitsu and all this other stuff.’ So I show up to this address, I walk in, and Jay Glazer is on my left, and Randy Couture is on my right. I looked at Jay, I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but just know that I’m not fighting Randy Couture today. That’s just not going down.’
But anyway, what happened was, my first day doing anything in MMA was with Randy Couture, and he was showing me some movements, we were pummeling, and I couldn’t really understand how he was kind of using my body leverage to toss me around. Obviously, I’m a bigger guy. I’m stronger. I’ve got Randy by probably 60-plus pounds or so, close to it.
Somehow, some way, he was just able to do things that I couldn’t do. I had seen how important it was to pick up that skill, because that next year, I came out and I led the NFL in sacks. I was using my hands. I had more cardio, more endurance. I wasn’t as tired in the fourth quarter, my body and game, it just kind of transitioned.
Fast forward, I was training every offseason leading up to that, launched Lights Out Xtreme Fighting in 2019. For me, the fun part about this business is that I’ve been in TV over at Fox Sports and NFL Network on the broadcasting side, so I understood how TV production and that side of it works. Obviously, having a love and a passion for MMA and fighting myself at times, I was like, hold on, I can do this, because I understand how this business goes.
That’s been it, man. It’s been my life for the last couple years, and to watch it grow – this last fight we had on Fubo not only cracked the top 10 on Fubo Sports, but we were shown in Canada and France and some parts of Spain. So it’s turned into an international business for me, and that’s been fun. That process has been really cool.
Yeah, it’s awesome, right? We watch it, obviously, and I think we’ll be out at the fight in LA. The production quality is awesome, the talent is fantastic, and these aren’t guys that you’ve necessarily hueard of every day, at least not all of them are. But they’re putting their heart out there, and you can see it. The way you do the production brings that story to life.
That kind of brings me to the next thing I want to talk about: you care a lot about the fans and the fans interaction with your sport, right? We’ve had those conversations. And so, I’m interested in, what are you providing that’s different, that’s unique? Who is that fan that you’re going after? Are you looking for the cross-sport athlete, the guy who came over from the NFL, or the woman that comes over from rugby? What are you providing with Lights Out Xtreme Fighting?
For one, and anybody will tell you this even throughout my whole career, I’ve always been about the fans. I think sometimes people forget this, especially athletes, the fans make this thing go. They move the needle, because they buy tickets, they buy jerseys, they show up, they intereact. If you see me, I’m always interacting with fans on social media, showing up at stuff and appearances and being a certain, like, it’s about the fans. The fans really control and promote and they kind of dictate a lot of things without really understanding how important they are.
So for me, I say this: the fans will tell you if something is good or if something is bad. Both sets of information is very important to building a business, because they tell you what they like and they tell you what they don’t like. For us, when I see us cracking into the top 10, I’m like, somebody likes us, somebody likes what we’re doing.
And so, what I learned is, the more you have fans involved, the more they feel like they’re a part of what you’re doing, the better whatever you’re doing is gonna be. I learned this a long time ago, and that started with me being around fantasy football.
People don’t understand how big fantasy football was in the NFL. I mean, fantasy football is a big reason why the NFL is as big as it is, and me knowing that and having that understanding, I say, how can we get fans more involved in what we’re doing?
That’s why I ended up going with Fubo. Fubo has a great tech platform that has different things: engagement, predictive parts of our fight. We have these predictive sets, we give away prizes and give away tickets and memorabilia and all these things, subscriptions to Fubo. That was a big part of why I wanted to partner with them, because they got it. They understood how important it was to have the fans connected to what we’re doing.
Yeah. And it’s so hard, right? The data world right now in sports should absolutely be driving your road map, right? Because the amount that you can learn from the fans is broader and in some ways even more direct than it ever was before, because you can quite literally ask the fans what they think. So, how far are you gonna take that? One of the last episodes we did was with the guys from Fan Controlled Sports + Entertainment, and they’re opening up the doors for fans to make play calls right on the field and to make draft decisions. Are you ever thinking that you’re gonna go to a point where fans can help create cards or matchups or vote on that or anything like that? How far do you go?
One hundred percent. I got something in the store, I got some ideas, and we’re gonna talk more when we get off. But for the fans that can’t make it to our fights, how close can I get them to feeling like they’re there? What can I do?
We started to see little things like VR and all that. I wanna go way further than that. I want to figure out a way to have our fans so involved in Lights Out Xtreme Fighting and what we’re building that they feel like a part of it, right? Whether there or not, they feel like they’re a part of our shows or part of our events.
So I’m constantly always thinking of ways to implement those types of scenarios, because at the end of the day, you will grow, and you will be monstrous if the fans get behind what you’re doing. I understand that, and so I target a lot of that DNA in general, just being very, very fan-oriented.
Yeah, and right now you’ve got a great outlet through social, right? You interact a lot with the fans, you talk to them. You don’t hide anything, you keep it all out there. It’s very authentic. And we did a little bit of that kind of leading into this, we reached out to some Lights Out Xtreme Fighting fans, and had a couple questions. The first question that everybody wants to know is, are we going to see Shawne Merriman in the ring this year?
Um, that’s not totally out of the question.
So, it’s not totally out of the question. I’m sparring today, you know, it’s not a question of me training. That’s the easy part for me, because I enjoy doing it. It’s that, I respect this sport too much to kind of just fight, because I don’t have the time to train like the rest of these guys. Because I see them – when I’m in the gym, sometimes I train in the morning at 8 o’clock, sometimes I have to go at 4 p.m. in the afternoon or whatever, and guess what? I’ll see some of those same fighters in there that I saw at 8 o’clock, and I’ll see them again at 4 o’clock.
So me understanding this sport, I always make this joke: you can play basketball, you can play football, you can’t play fighting, right? With that being said, I’ve always stayed behind the scenes really in a sense, or kind of been the face when promoting the other fights, because I was fortunate enough to build up a big enough platform where I can get these other fighters seen. That’s where my side of the business comes in at.
I respect that, and you obviously can look at things from an athlete’s perspective, and you’ve got an enormous amount of respect. When we saw the Gronk announcement come out on April 1st, everybody got excited about that. I get the April fools joke there.
The follow-up question that everybody has was, if you are gonna get into the ring, what’s your walkout song?
Um, probably Lights Out, P.O.D. I would probably have them playing that live as I’m coming out. But you know, I actually cut a Lights Out track myself that I was gonna use for the intro for Lights Out. I was working on one with DJ Paul from Three 6 Mafia. We were talking about some stuff.
So, yeah, man, I’m in it. This is life for me. I look at it, I was fortunate, because I did what I did on the field and had the career I had, but to get to doing what I’m doing now, it’s like that same feeling of running out to 70,000-plus people in the stadium and millions of people watching. That’s the kind of adrenaline I have about what I’m doing right now.
Alright. Well, I’ve got two questions to finish up with. The first one: Lights Out in five years, what’s your dream? Not going into details, you’ve done so much already. You’ve got the Fubo deal, you’ve got amazing athletes in it. Where is Lights Out in five years, in your mind?
To be honest, with new tech and new opportunities coming out, my number one goal of what we’re doing is fan engagement. I wanna be as interactive as possible to keep expanding on that. I want to bring as much to the table to get out fans more involved. Who knows, fans may be able to fight in the cafe from home in the next five years. They could fight each other in some kind of visual aspect to it.
I have no idea, but the Lights Out brand, our first time having a fight and being shown in France and Canada and some parts of Spain and being international. I would love for this to be not only here, our media footprint in the States, but I would love for this to just be a global phenonmenon, man. To be able to take and go have fights in other parts of the world, and people now who we are, that to me would be awesome.
And I’m just curious as a follow-up to that, because I know the international distribution is so cool, and it’s something that you’re really excited about. Does that also lead to new athletes? Does that open the door to recruiting folks that hadn’t heard of you outside of this?
Yeah, absolutely, because one of the reason why I got into this sport was to transition some of these former athletes. Former NFL guys, former track, I’m talking to a former baseball player right now who’s thinking about taking a couple fights, a couple of former rugby guys that are transitioning out and trying to transition to MMA.
So when you have a global event, people watching internationally, now those rugby players in Australia, they’re watching us, right? Some of these athletes over in Europe that are trying to get in there are coming from another sport, and so it just opens the doors beyond belief.
There’s really no stopping on how big we can go. We just want to stay in tune with the fans and make sure they’re included in everything we do.
Yeah, that’s awesome. Very cool. I’m excited for you, I’m excited about the future of Lights Out Xtreme Fighting You’ve got fans and we’re pumped to see the direction of it.
I always finish with a question. It’s interesting to ask guys that have kind of started their own league, but there’s so much opportunity in the States right now for either leagues coming from abroad, right? Cricket coming over, as an example, you’ve got upstart leagues like LIV or Tomorrow golf. You’ve got the XFL making a restart here. Is there anything outside of Lights Out Xtreme Fighting that you’re watching that you’re excited about, that you think has big opportunity. You know the sports world as well as anyone.
Well, right now, live sports is it. I mean, just in general, first and foremost, live sports is it. You’re seeing more tech, like Amazon going to get Thursday Night Football, right? The first game out the gate, I believe it was the Chargers, and achieved 17.5, 18 million viewers. They had their biggest three-day sale in company history. That shows you the power of sports and live sports in general.
I think pickleball, I think that’s gonna grow and be big. It’s gonna be more competitive, because I think that more people can do it. The more and more people can do it. Everybody can’t play football, and everybody’s not going to the NFL, they’re not going to the NBA or Major League Baseball or even soccer for that matter. But I think that pickleball has an opportunity to gain a big, big media footprint and visibility. I know some people personally who own a couple of teams themselves and are involved in the league. It’s not my thing, but I look at everything that’s going on in live sports, and I would probably say that’s the next up.
Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, it’s got a huge following right now, and you can play it at any age. That makes a difference.
Well, Shawne, thank you so much. Again, everybody, text L-X-F to 31032, and we will keep you updated on all things Lights Out Xtreme Fighting, including the next fight, which is taking place next month on Fubo TV and live in Los Angeles.
Shawne, you’re awesome. Thank you. Good luck with everything and can’t wait to see the league and the movement that you built.
You got it, my man. Thanks for having me. I can’t wait to work together and build something great, because it will be!