The UFC will host their first event at Madison Square Garden in November. Professional mixed martial arts was previously illegal in the state and was the last state to legalize the sport. With Conor McGregor at the top of the fight card the debut event in New York City could set financial records for the company. AdWeek, a news outlet that covers “media news, including print, technology, advertising, branding and television” wrote about the company and its growth over the last decade.
A lot of attention is paid to the growth of the UFC internationally. Around the globe there are an estimated 269 million fans, which is more than Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League. The UFC has been able to expand globally much easier than the NFL as well in terms of growth. Only 16% of UFC fans live in the United States.
AdWeek also points out how beneficial the UFC has been to it’s corporate partners. According to Harley Davidson’s Director of US Marketing Dino Bernacchi said:
It is a natural relationship. UFC stars like Michael Chiesa, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Paige VanZant and Daniel Cormier are cycling enthusiasts and often post Harley-related content on their social media accounts. (One contest had a fan winning a motorcycle and riding lessons from Cormier and VanZant.)We have UFC representatives who aren’t just riding Harleys, but they’re part of this brand… Fourteen percent of their fan base have become riders [because of the partnership], and that number was more like four 10 years ago… The activation and participation we get from their fan base whenever we do these promos is in the hundreds of thousands.
WME-IMG, who purchased the UFC for $4 billion earlier this year, has large plans to push into Asia and specifically China. The UFC is part of their content strategy because of how many events the company puts on during a year and how well the sport translates across cultural boundaries. Dana White says:
The difference between us and the NFL is, we’re global, and we’ll continue to grow globally faster than they ever will… Cricket is massive in England and India, but it’s never going to catch on in the U.S. because we don’t understand the rules. Fighting works everywhere—the rules don’t have to be explained. I don’t care what country you come from or what language you speak, for most human beings, fighting is in their DNA and they love it.
The UFC has emphasized throughout it’s history in getting what they call stamps of approval. When Zuffa signed Bud Light as the UFC’s first blue-chip sponsor, the Fertitta brothers and White called it a watershed moment for the company. The sponsors, mainstream tv appearances, and now legalization in New York, all show how far the UFC has come from a company whose events you couldn’t even Pay-Per-View because it was considered too obscene. Legalizing the sport in New York and doing business in the world’s largest media market was considered one of the most important hurdles for the company to jump over.
For the UFC to make the next jump to rivaling the NBA on a global level will be it’s media distribution and generating more stars. As noted by Kelsey Philpott in the article, there are a few fighters that generate the most revenue for the company. Fighters like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey can provide huge value a couple times a year when considering PPV revenue. As seen with Rousey’s virtual disappearance from the sport since shortly after her loss to Holly Holm there is also a lot of volatility that comes with being a professional fighter.
The $4 billion price tag attached to the UFC is a strong indicator on what the future of the UFC looks like. With WME-IMG at the helm the likelihood of better athlete promotion and international growth looks very promising.