03 Oct The Evolution Of UFC – A Combination of Marketing Genius and Worldwide Popularity
UFC has risen to standings that no one could have pre-conceived. Through lucrative endorsement, sponsorship deals, and content marketing, UFC has produced results that any other sport would relish.
Seemingly out of the darkness Ultimate Fighting Championship, better known as UFC, has risen to an astounding status. A sport that barely received any recognition and little to no type of media publicity has managed to evolve its popularity and has grown to become the billion dollar company that stands tall to this day.
In the Early 1990’s UFC competitions were created and began gaining pay-per-view audiences of approximately 86,000, but struggled to survive due to negative public perceptions, and further became banned in all but three US states. Compare that to now, with UFC being sold for approximately $4 billion by a group led by Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG and existing corporation made up of a group of entertainment companies including; William Morris Endeavour, International Management Group, private equity firm MSD and investment firm KKR Co. Combined, they will be at the helm of UFC, owning 90% of the company, alongside previous president Dana White, with the other 10% being allocated to previous owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.
UFC stages roughly 40 events per year and holds more than 500 fighters under contract. The events can be viewed in over 150 different countries, and the popularity of the sport around the world acts as a contributing factor in the sports global success.
In 2011, Fox Sports Media Group agreed on a seven-year deal that positioned UFC in the spotlight for the first time. Reportedly $100 million a year, the agreement enables Fox to deliver four live UFC events per year during prime-time on the multi-national broadcast network as well as additional programming on a host of other platforms including FX, Fuel TV, and Fox Sports Net.
The growth of UFC has been transcendent not only with it’s ever-growing popularity around the world but also with its revenue figures, with 2015 hailing a profit of $157 million, double that of 2014. No doubt the implementation of UFC across all media platforms has assisted greatly in the success of the sport and has further led to between 1.2 million and 1.5 million pay-per-view buys for the most recent event UFC 202, combined with additional cash from ticket sales and licensing fees attribute to the likely revenue figure amounting to $250 million. The sport has seemingly captured the demographic of 18-34-year-olds and by exploiting the use of online video the UFC has seemingly become its own media organisation, and through its YouTube channel, the most-viewed video has over 43.7 million views.
In 2013, BT Sports signed a deal with UFC for an undisclosed fee and in 2016 further extended the deal for another three years and has allowed BT Sports the show over 150 hours of fighting per year allowing the sports channel to be a “1 stop shop for UFC fans in the UK”. BT Sport has become one of the go-to sports channels and the incorporation of UFC into the channel is a token to the growth of UFC, enabling UK fans to access high profile fights from the UFC.
In addition to BT Sports, the BBC also penned a deal that allows BBC Three to act as an editorial and promotional partner for the UFC, who seek to attract UK millennials. Damien Kavanagh explains; “the popularity of the UFC in the UK has grown exponentially in the last few years thanks to stars like Irish-born Conor McGregor who continues to draw huge audiences and so the BBC’s decision to initiate a presence in the sport, which is largely absent from UK broadcasting outside of BT Sport, is likely to attract the target audience.”
UFC’s spread across from the US has been an integral to the success of the brand. James Elliot, previously Senior Director of Content and now Vice President and General Manager has been an instrumental figure in the spread of UFC throughout Europe; “UFC has a strong commitment to the European market and I am thrilled to help lead the organisation’s thriving business in the region. By leveraging key broadcast partnerships and exciting live events that have sold out some of the biggest arenas in Europe, UFC is poised to expand its global reach for years to come.”
Similar to boxing UFC promotes personality within its fighters and Conor McGregor is a prime example of this, his fierce wit and charm in front of a camera has no doubt assisted in the making UFC the mainstream in fighting events. In UFC 202 McGregor set the record for the highest disclosed pay for any UFC fighter, earning a reported $3 million and making Conor McGregor a household name around the world.
With personalities such as Conor ‘The Notorious’ McGregor taking centre Octagon, propelling the sport to new heights and engaging audiences with ‘prize fights’ such as McGregor vs Diaz, attracting millions to one of the events, the sport has managed to acquire multi-national sponsorship deals most notably Reebok, who signed a deal worth approximately $70 million who now supply UFC with official apparel for the sport.
In March 2015, Monster Energy signed a sponsorship deal with UFC, worth more the $7 million, that allowed their brand logo to be displayed in the centre of the octagon throughout all fights. The partnership allows both brands to utilise their respective target audiences and all of which embody the same enthusiasm and passion which is synonymous with both brands.
Whilst being a part of the centrepiece, Monster Energy also created content and competitions that allowed fans to be closer to the action with campaigns such as; ‘Belt the Champ’, a promotional campaign that gave fans the opportunity to present the UFC champion with the Championship belt. The ‘Monster Experience’ was another promotional campaign that allowed fans to gain access to open workouts, weigh-ins, press conferences and the chance to sit with the president, Dana White.
UFC haven’t only gained attention through the success of the TV broadcasts Content marketing has played a pivotal part through the widely known “The Ultimate Fighter” TV series. The series follows a select group of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters who go through intense training from current UFC fighters, as well as their day-to-day lifestyles. Before you think this is just a reality TV show, it’s worth highlighting that some of the fighters that are showcased have made it to UFC and are currently prized fighters, including UFC Women’s titan, Ronda Rousey.
The series allows viewers to follow fighters from the early stages of their careers and allows viewers to become connected with individual athletes. Not only this, but this genius piece of Content marketing uses (almost) free content, because ‘The Ultimate Fighter” was created and owned by current president, Dana White. It is, essentially, a reality TV programme, but creating the corresponding link between the TV series and UFC, enables fighters the opportunity to build a brand name for themselves and attract an audience.
As UFC has grown in size and in popularity, the sport has advanced and emphasis has also been put on improving performance through the use wearable technology. Wearable technology such as the ‘altitude mask’, which implements added resistance to your breathing whilst training, which can help breathing when in the ring. The iPunch, one of the smartest combat gloves, has built in sensors that can record data such as punch speed, accuracy and power and can then be transferred onto the iPunch App.
UFC as a brand has taken over the fighting scene and is one of the most popular fighting establishments to date. The sports rise over the 20 years is a fairytale story that other emerging sports can only dream of, the use of personality media exploits and an engaged target audience has allowed the UFC brand to reach heights that were previously unfathomable.