You might be wondering why your Facebook timeline, Twitter feed and Snapchat stories were filled with clips of men and women fighting relentlessly over the weekend. Over the past decade, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) representation of mixed martial arts (MMA), has gained mainstream popularity, with fighters such as Ronda Rousey, Anderson Silva and Conor McGregor, becoming household names. After what is being considered the single largest transaction in professional sports history occurring in July 2016, the UFC which was acquired by WME-IMG for a record breaking cost of 4 billion dollars, has become one of the world’s biggest and most watched sports.
But how did a company which was close to bankruptcy just over a decade ago turn into a multi-billion dollar company? The answer is simply one word- MARKETING.
We have a look at the key marketing elements of UFC and how it made its way into the Forbes Fab 40.
Using the power of Social Media
Social media marketing is a concept that even the biggest of businesses struggle with. This, however, isn’t the case with the UFC. President, Dana White, not only understands the power held by social media but has unprecedentedly implemented a holistic approach in integrating social media into the UFC experience. Demanding his fighters to, “Twitter your (their) asses off!” and providing them with compulsory social media lessons, White has ensured all his athletes have a story and know how to tell it. The UFC has transformed what we know as traditional publicity where what athletes are saying has been scripted, filtered and monitored to now encouraging fighters to express their thoughts and ensuring that what they are saying has been viewed, liked, shared and reblogged. As a result the audience is emotionally invested in not only the matches, but also the fighter’s life and thoughts following the match.
Have the fighters promote the brand message
With the rise of targeted and specialised marketing, consumers have become aware of what but more importantly who is marketing to them. This is why the UFC does not use big corporate marketing companies telling their fans why they should be watching or who should they be supporting, the marketing message is vocalised by the fighters themselves. Dana White has ensured that all his fighters, or at least the successful ones, have a brand for themselves and that this brand is influential and powerful. So who is better than influencing an audience on a fighter, than the fighter themselves.
Making controversy their best friend
From controversial judging decisions to controversial fights, controversy is embedded in the UFC’s DNA, especially in the blood of their president. White who is known for being ruthless in his tweets and press conferences, knows that this transparency among the organisation and its fans, is what makes it an inclusively unique sport, where each audience member is invested in what is being said and done on and off the screen. And making this accessible across several platforms, 24/7, is making the sport gain attention like never before. It’s been said that Conor McGregor generated more publicity in his tweets directed towards the UFC then his whole press tour around New York City could’ve.
Ronda Rousey at one stage was the highest paid UFC fighter of all time claiming to earn more per second than Floyd Mayweather. This female fighter from California was personally backed by Dana White, who was set to prove that there was power in Women’s Mixed Martial Arts. Rousey was the third most searched person on Google in 2015 and was included into Fortune’s top 40 most influential young people in Business. She is only the third athlete to do so (behind LeBron James and Tiger Woods), all while earning over $5 million US just from two bouts alone. When was the last time you heard a female boxer gathering that kind of attention? Strategically broadcasted in over 129 countries and territories, to nearly 800 million TV households, in 28 different languages, the UFC has certified its global standing in this industry by breaking preconceived notions and barriers held amongst traditional sports.