(This is a guest post by Josh Nason)
If you’re a sports fan, I’m fairly certainly that you’ve heard the letters “UFC” uttered at some point over the past several years — especially if you watch ESPN.
But to understand the world’s biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) organization is to truly appreciate what UFC President Dana White and majority owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta have been able to do since purchasing the defunct group for $2 million back in 2001 — marketing a combat sport and turning it into a worldwide pop culture phenomenon in today’s p.c. culture.
The UFC helped fill a void that both boxing and pro wrestling has managed to nearly completely disinterest by going to an age-old simple formula: putting two people in a fight, shining a light on why you should want to watch them fight and then, over-delivering.
Need convincing that the UFC has staying power? Here’s five points to consider that should change your mind:
55,000 sold in less than a day
In 2010, MMA was legally cleared in the province of Ontario and Toronto — a white-hot region for the sport if there ever was one — and was first up on the list to host an event. The target was the massive Rogers Centre, but there were concerns about filling the stadium while still providing the first-class fan experience the UFC strives for.
But they forged ahead and booked the venue for a late-April event. That turned out to be a great move.
Last week, the UFC went on sale and flew through 42,000 tickets to their fan club members, clearing 33,000 in just 30 minutes. They opened up another 13,000 seats on Saturday and they disappeared into the public’s hands within minutes.
The live gate alone will set both attendance and ticket revenue records (an estimated $11 million) for the UFC, all before a single pay-per-view is sold.
You say P-P-V, I say U-F-C
Speaking of those all important pay-per-view buys, the UFC had no problem dominating the market, decimating anything WWE or most boxing events put out there (save for that Manny Pacquiao fella).
While official numbers aren’t released, industry estimates had the UFC garnering over 9.3 million worldwide PPV purchases in 2010, raking in an estimated $465 million over 15 events.
Almost half a billion for an industry that is supposedly dying? Not too shabby. With three events jumping the golden 1 million buy mark in 2010 – led by top draw Brock Lesnar – the UFC is already gearing up for another massive revenue haul in 2011 with plenty of major events featuring fights that fans are willing to plunk down $50+ to see.
Yeah, everyone uses social media and some are maximizing these incredible outreach opportunities more than others. The UFC has completely embraced the medium with their recent push to get more ‘likes’ on Facebook as a prime example.
Prior to a recent event, they offered to stream two non-televised undercard fights on Facebook. The way to view them? Just ‘like’ their page. That’s all. Fans enjoyed full production value with commentary at no cost.
The end result was they grew their likes by 130,000 during the event and decided to do it again a few weeks later. They stand at 4.7 million likes on the social media giant and White sees a lot of promise for doing more interaction with free live fights streaming on Facebook in the future.
Virtually No Competition
I heard a statement last year that stood out to me: “MMA isn’t cool, the UFC is.” As a fan of the sport, I disagreed at first but when you really dissect the business today, it’s actually quite accurate.
While MMA continues to grow on a regional level with smaller shows, the UFC’s competition is in a distant 2nd place. San Jose, CA-based Strikeforce is as close as it gets with monthly shows running on Showtime and some name-value fighters that the UFC would like to have, but the UFC has too much reach, too much brand value and too much money to let them get close.
Another example can be found on Yahoo’s sports page. The letters ‘UFC’ are the entry into the MMA section, a change they made in July 2009. That’s what people know, so that’s what they’re going to see. Mention MMA and UFC to the average sports fan and see what they recognize first.
Simply put, they are the MLB/NBA/NFL/NHL of their sport.
A Celebrity Sits In The Throne
That man is the afore-mentioned White, a 41-year-old dynamo that lives, breathes and sleeps UFC. A boxing product, he’s driven the machine for over 10 years and has helped the group go from near bankruptcy to an estimated $1 billion value in that time.
While White has plenty of critics, he’s nearly untouchable to his throng of fans – 1.3 million strong on Twitter – and has become an outright star. He’s a media dream: open, honest and willing to take on any challenge, especially when it comes to detractors of MMA. White regularly posts video blogs letting people behind the curtain leading up to events and while a promoter at heart, he always has his fans’ best interests in mind when it comes to UFC business.
Is he the prim and proper Roger Goodell? Not even close. But White will tell you that’s not what he strives to be and that as long as there are fans that want to take in his product, he’ll do everything he can to make sure they get their money’s worth and then some – suit, tie and p.c. language be damned.
Come to think of it, maybe he should preside over the NFL labor talks. If there’s going to be a fight, you might as well have someone that knows what they’re doing to promote it.
Josh Nason is a New England-based MMA journalist who has contributed to FIGHT! Magazine and CBSSports.com, along with hosting the WGAM MMA Minute . Follow him on Twitter .
Absolutely great, insightful post. I was late to the UFC/MMA/Strike Force bandwagon. I was also a fan of “pure” boxing, two guys with gloves squaring up and duking it out. But after getting into MMA about two weeks ago when introduced to another Livefyre blog (MMAConvert.com), I was hooked. I watched the Live Event last week on Facebook and follow it pretty much daily now. Awesome stuff.
@JMattHicks : Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I also used to like boxing (and still do for big fights), but in 2005, I began to fall in love with MMA which filled the void that boxing left open. Lots of free events on TV which is also great for fans like yourself which are just getting started in the sport.
As a former intern for a small-time Boxing/MMA promotion in South Carolina, I understand the amount of effort it takes to put on and promote to a seemingly niche audience, and this (article) is truly a great pat on the back to the UFC and a congratulations to the hard work of the competitors in that company.