The objective of the fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is pretty much the same as that of boxers in various rivalling boxing associations – to smash or punch the living daylights out of each other. However, UFC is raking it in all over the world whereas boxing, the established centuries old ‘original’ sport of fist fighting itself is literally fighting for its life. Whatever is left of emerging boxing talent is walking over to the rich UFC side. What makes UFC such a great example of modern day sport business entrepreneurship? The answer is simple.
When UFC, on the verge of bankruptcy, was bought by Zuffa LLC in 2001, the development of the sport was charted along the lines of innovative product development and contemporary marketing. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the wide talent basket that fighters can be drawn from. Not rocket science, just smart business planning. The traditionally governed sport of boxing has been spending a lot of time and energy infighting between the various global boxing associations about who is the most important and successful governing body. UFC in the meantime has been working on building its profile, developing a mixed martial arts proposition, and riding on the wave of reality shows of the 2000s to create the TV series ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. UFC produces more than 40 live events per annum, and boasts the largest pay-per-view audience of any sport in the world broadcasting to more than 120 countries, reaching close to a billion viewers.
However, it wasn’t pay-per-view that launched the UFC into the mainstream of globally successful sports but rather a seven-year deal with Fox Sports in 2011 ensured that UFC would be introduced to millions around the world. The value of the initial broadcast deal is likely to quadruple come 2018. Unlike boxing, UFC bosses are unified and have embraced the preferred means of communication of the new generation. Dana White, UFC’s President is one of the most followed sport executives in the world with more than 4.7 million Twitter followers, UFC has over 6 million, and more than 21 million people follow UFC on Facebook. In 2011 UFC launched a Twitter incentive program. The fighters with the highest number of followers received prizes and in 2015 a Spotify campaign challenged fans to vote for the best walkout song. https://www.mmamania.com/2012/6/11/3078173/ufc-walkout-music-fan-vote-facebook-spotify-twitter-social-media
On http://www.ufc.com/ you can find links to UFC FIGHT PASS™, which is a digital subscription service for exclusive live events, and original content. The UFC organization also licenses over 100 UFC GYM® locations and it owns UFC.TV® , UFC FIT® (an in-home fitness and nutrition program), UFC Magazine, and a videogame franchise with EA SPORTS, UFC Fight Club®, UFC Fan Expo®, UFC branded apparel, DVDs and Blu-rays and Topps Trading Cards.
Surely big data and analytics are next? Of course. Any business savvy sport that is looking to create a platform for product innovation, upscaling and personalisation at the same time, needs to be on the data collection and value creation bandwagon. The new owners of UFC, WME/IMG, who bought the company for over 4 billion in 2016 are in the process of further transforming the sport and how it is and can be consumed. Sensors placed in the stadium, the shorts, gloves, anywhere they can be fit, will deliver data on punching power, kicking speed, time to or speed of knockouts, energy expended, biometric information and so on. This is not only great value adding information during the event and the various broad and narrowcastings, but it also can be used to build intricate narratives around the fighters, who in turn can construct their personal brands through prolific social media sharing and exposure. Good commerce… and from where I sit, hopefully some really good sport science and sport business intelligence as well.
So boxing… you may be in the same business, but are you in the same league? Better get your sport business act together if the sport is to survive. Do you want see some comparative stats of Boxing versus UFC? Check this out and see how UFC is rapidly closing the gap or better, leaving boxing for dead, sport business wise. https://sports.bwin.com/en/news/infographics/ufc-vs-boxing-graphic,116485.html