How UFC became a brand synonymous with Mixed Martial Arts?
Lot of you must have watched the UFC-282 event yesterday, you might not even realize the literal blood, sweat and toil UFC and its fighters put forward to become what it is today. Once a pariah of the sporting industry, UFC( Ultimate Fighting Championship) has slowly, but surely, managed to become one of the most valuable sporting events. Period! UFC alone is today valued at $5 billion USD. So, how has the sporting brand reinvigorated itself as the number one, mixed martial arts sporting event?
UFC was envisaged as a way to settle the age-old question:
Who would win if a fighting champion with a certain fighting style ( let’s say boxing) fought a fighting champion from a different genre ( let’s say wrestling)?
Initially imagined as a yearly event that would include fighters from various genres competing for the ‘ultimate champion’ title, after Dana White ( still the sitting president of UFC) bought the brand in 2002, the model switched to a throughout the year event, highlighting multiple fights across different fighting styles and weight classes. Under new management, UFC began to hire people from all over the world, while also scouting for talents from all over.
Post 2002 BOOM
This led to the diversity in the type of fighters who wanted to become the UFC champion. Proper marketing of the brand as the one to set the ‘Ultimate Champion’ legacy attracted some of the best fighters from all fighting styles and nationalities. Simply signing a contract with UFC had become synonymous to being at the height of a fighter’s career in his/her respective fighting styles.
Winning a UFC fight was not just about the legacy however. It came with a huge payday. Post 2002, UFC has given us some of the most highly paid athletes in sporting history. Now that a fighter could actually earn a comfortable living from UFC, fighters did not see UFC as simply a fight for glory!
However, it would be premature to designate UFC’s success solely on the revised model. Let us look at the highs UFC has achieved from a branding perspective that has made UFC what it is today in a chronological order:
- Fox Sports reality TV show
UFC really took off in 2005 when Fox Sports filmed a reality TV show that centered around the lives and ridiculous training regimes of UFC fighters. This action alone became one of the major branding coups UFC had been looking for. UFC is certainly not the first and only MMA brand. There are others like ‘ONE’ and ‘Bellator’. Featuring in a national sports television, showcasing the life and training regiment of some of the most famous UFC fighters, made UFC a household name. As a result of the series, UFC’s viewership rapidly increased in America.
Conor McGroger Phenomenon
Think what you want to about McGroger! However, it would not be an overstatement to say that McGroger single-handedly broke UFC into the mainstream. His cocky, over-the-top antics outside the octagon, mixed with his god-like striking precision inside, was too much of an attraction for even casual fans to miss out on. Up until McGroger, UFC had been rising steadily, garnering hardcore MMA fans. However, with McGroger, UFC became a cultural phenomenon just like the SuperBowl or NBA events.
The McGroger vs Aldo broke UFC’s pay-per-view and syndicated viewership records by a large margin. Both fighters had been undefeated until this event. McGroger made UFC a household name not just in America, or his country Ireland, but a global brand. Even casual and non-MMA fans could hardly avoid the buzz surrounding this fight. Let’s not talk about the frenzy McGrogor’s 13 second first round knockout caused globally!
And guess what, the record for the highest pay-per-view MMA fight is still held by McGroger ( McGroger vs Nurmagomedov). So what, if McGroger lost?!
Summing up, UFC has risen from its ashes, having basically faced bankruptcy in its heyday. It is the marketing and branding acumen of UFC’s hosts and some of the most animated fighters like Conor McGregor that UFC brandished, that the brand has become what it is today. UFC’s case study is a classic example of how proper marketing and branding is imperative for success of any business. MMA was not even considered a proper sport when UFC started. The sport was considered too brutal and violent. However, the brand managed to turn that itself into its x factor. Add that with a roster of some of the best fighters we have seen in any fighting championship like Mcgroger, Aldo, Silva, Nurmagomedov, it is no surprise why this brand has become a 5 billion dollars one. As mentioned above, McGroger single-handedly perhaps became UFC’s mascot, making UFC fights a cultural event.