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What CMOs Can Learn From Mixed Martial Arts

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Ultimate Fighting Championship's President Dana White should be your CMO. Yes, you read that correctly.

The perception of mixed martial arts (MMA) needs to change. Those who think MMA athletes are merely cavemen pounding each other for sport need to realize that they may well be the strongest personal-branding experts in the marketing world.

Yes, those "brutes" are better at the marketing game than many self-proclaimed "gurus" whose writings we read each day.

Over the past few months, I've looked at a range of social-media tools that MMA fighters and promoters use, the growing audiences they have developed, and the resulting expansion of brands placing ad revenue into pay-per-view (PPV) events.

Marketers need to take a better look at what the UFC promoters are doing to get the attention of sponsors such as Bud Light, Harley Davidson, and Burger King, among others.


Fighters, promoters, bloggers, and fans alike are using social media outlets. Much like small-business owners, fighters are always looking for ways to build a larger fan base and get people talking about them.

Fighters are promoting themselves across personal websites, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter to communicate with fans and build their following at a meteoric pace. Similarly, fans are using social media to connect with their favorite fighters and meet other fans who are equally as passionate and knowledgeable about the sport.

UFC, perhaps the best example of a business case for MMA social media marketing, has created a groundswell that most brand managers would gush over.

UFC President and media spokesperson Dana White has taken a personal interest in social media and has used its platforms to build a bigger and more loyal fan base than any competing promotion.

In fact, according to a Mashable post, White hired public relations (PR) firm Digital Royalty to teach 200 fighters how to properly use social- media platforms and gave them this simple instruction: "I want you to Twitter your asses off."

Although many sports leagues such as the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and National Football League are placing restrictions on athletes' use of those platforms, the UFC is encouraging their use for self-promotion.

Unlike many companies that say they are pro social media, the UFC is practicing what it preaches. White can be found daily on Twitter (@danawhite) giving his followers updates on what he is doing, what they can expect from the UFC in coming events, and the product giveaways in the cities where he is trying fill seats for his next event.

Here is a brief look at a few of the channels the UFC is using daily to reach its audience:

  • UFC.com. In August 2010, the UFC updated its popular website to fully integrate social media. The site now automatically cycles in and cycles out fan conversations about the UFC from other online portals, including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. UFC.com averages more than 45.5 million page views per month, and during 2009 online advertisers garnered more than 1.6 billion impressions by partnering with the site.*
  • Twitter. The UFC is a prime example of how to use Twitter. The handle promotes UFC-specific activities, shares MMA news from various media outlets, offers polls, responds to fans and fighters alike, and also issues Twitter-specific contests and giveaways. The handle has more than 150,000 followers.*
  • Facebook. UFC's fan page is one of the most active in consumer engagement. The page offers video, photo albums, contests, and exclusives to keep fans coming back. As of July 2010, the page was second to only the NBA in terms of the major sports promotions, USA Today reported. The page has 3,301,484 "likes."*
  • YouTube. The UFC's channel attempts to provide everything a fan could want in a brief video escape. Trailers for upcoming PPVs, interviews with fighters, fighters' video blogs, backstage access to events, and, of course, video updates from White himself. The channel has 10,322,572 channel views and 136,959 subscribers.*

OK, that all sounds nice, but I'm sure you're wondering what that equates to in terms of revenue.

The numbers don't lie. The fans are piling up in droves for the sport and love the accessibility of its personalities.

In Boston, where there is no shortage of sports activity, UFC 118 had fans lined up throughout the downtown area, for example, prompting veteran sports writer Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe to laud MMA's appeal to fans:

Last night's card represented the largest dollar gross of any event in TD Garden during this calendar year. Tickets were scaled from $75 to $600. For many in attendance, this was undoubtedly a dream scenario, seeing their beloved UFC up close and personal after watching all those matches on television.

In a still-shaky economy, the affiliation continues to sell out events with ticket prices that rival any other sport's. The main lesson for marketers is to see the value that can come from putting some time and resources toward your customer base. It may sound cliché, but the more you are willing to give, the more your customers will be willing to pay you back.

So... who is the big, dumb brute now?

*Stats are as of September 27, 2010, and may have changed.


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Matt Trocchio is a PR professional at SHIFT Communications (www.shiftcomm.com) by day and an MMA blogger at night. He can be reached at MixedMarketingArts@gmail.com.

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  • by Ava Tue Oct 12, 2010 via web

    This article is ridiculous. Calling professional fighters who train hard "big, dumb brutes" is horribly offensive. A strategy that calls for exploiting these artists of their craft and turning them into walking billboards is demeaning. If the UFC didn't buy Pride and shut it down these fighters might be getting the respect they deserve as well as the money. For all the money the UFC brings in on branding these fighters, they get squat. Dana White is a wasteful, exploitive prick.

  • by Matt Trocchio Wed Oct 13, 2010 via web

    I suppose we can agree to disagree on certain points here, Ava. What you see as exploiting, I see as providing an opportunity to showcase personal branding for individual fighters and awareness for their sport as a whole. As you can see from the piece, I tend to think the UFC is doing a great job as an organization. Any issues outside of marketing I'll leave to Dana and the fighters.

  • by Alen Bubich Thu Oct 14, 2010 via web

    I was extremely excited to read this article when I read the title because I strongly agree with the fact that the UFC is extremely well marketed. While there are definitely some lessons to be learned from the UFC, I think you've failed to identify any of them accurately with your article.

    First off, I think you've incorrectly identified a correlation between the success of the UFC and the use of social media. Is the UFC popular and therefore had 3MM "likes" or has a successful social media marketing strategy by the UFC lead to 3MM "likes". As far as I can tell there is no cohesive plan from the UFC to actually increase it's social media footprint.

    Also, I feel that "Twitter your asses off" is probably one of the worst pieces of advice I've ever heard in my life. I'm assuming by virtue of you identifying it in your article you are by extension endorsing this marketing "plan".

    As a web developer/consultant I hear my clients getting advice like this every day. It's bunk. Having a goal and reverse engineering your online marketing strategy (which you'll want to support with your offline marketing plan as well) will ultimately lead you to success.

    I think your own article identifies that best:

    "OK, that all sounds nice, but I'm sure you're wondering what that equates to in terms of revenue."

    Your answer was I'm not sure what the UFC's social media marketing efforts add up to monetarily but hey they're really popular right now so it must be working.

    I think you've missed the real marketing genius here which is that the UFC had a strong story line since it's inception. Hoyce Gracie versus Kimo highlighted the classic David vs Goliath and captured the imagination of the general public. Dana realized that and capitalized on that when he purchased the struggling UFC for a song.

    The advent of the Ultimate Fighter was probably the second turning point for the company and not only provided the marketing platform the company needed to reach millions of Americans right in their homes but helped the sport to garner public acceptance.

    I don't think sending out a tweet to 300 drunken hillbillies had as much impact on the brand (and more importantly bottom line) as your article might suggest.

  • by Alen Bubich Thu Oct 14, 2010 via web

    P.S. It's kind of ironic that you've positioned your online magazine as a leader in online marketing when I wasn't even able to join your site with Facebook Connect or Twitter OAuth.

    Food for thought... you might want to follow best practices yourselves...

  • by Matt Trocchio Mon Oct 18, 2010 via web

    Alen – Thanks for the comments, and a lot of food for thought. Unfortunately, we do disagree on several points. The UFC does have several online and offline marketing programs that I find genius. However, the focus of this piece was on its social efforts which have helped bridge the brand with many of its fans and provide a platform for them to speak directly. (Something many brands are still struggling with.) In terms of the old days of the UFC (David Vs. Goliath) I think they have worked hard to remove themselves from those older –less regulated -days to avoid comparison to “hillbillies’ as you put it and “brutes” as I did. Happy to have a larger conversation with you some time down the road if you want to shoot me an offline note. Thanks again for your thoughts!

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