UFC Roster Moves Could Make Dollars and Sense [Part 2 of 2]

May 30, 2008

CONTINUED FROM: UFC Roster Moves Could Make Dollars and Sense – Part 1

Signing prospects to initial fight contracts is only part of the prospect strategy; development and promotion are the other two intangibles at work here. In order to make the most of the talent they sign, the UFC will also need to develop these fighters through intelligent match-making and steadily increasing levels of exposure. Josh Koscheck, a former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion and TUF alumnus, is a textbook example of how to properly develop a prospect with serious upside.

Koscheck’s Fight Record since 2005:

  • TUF Finale (April 2005) – Chris Sanford (Win)
  • Ultimate Fight Night (August 2005) – Pete Spratt (Win)
  • Ultimate Fight Night 2 (November 2005) – Drew Fickett (Loss)
  • Ultimate Fight Night 4 (April 2006) – Ansar Chalangov (Win)
  • Ultimate Fight Night 5 (June 2006) – Dave Menne (Win)
  • Ultimate Fight Night 6 (August 2006) – Jonathon Goulet (Win)
  • Ultimate Fight Night 7 (December 2006) – Jeff Joslin (Win)
  • UFC 69: Shootout (April 2007)- Diego Sanchez (Win)
  • UFC 74: Respect (August 2007)- George St. Pierre (Loss)
  • UFC 82: Pride of a Champion (March 2008) – Dustin Hazelett (Win)

The key to developing a fighter is not to protect him, nor is it to throw him to the wolves. Rather, it means wisely matching him against opponents to push his level of development while not significantly overmatching him in any one particular aspect. If you look to recent UFC cards, including 84, you’ll see that many of the rookies faced solid challenges, but none were in over their heads. Brock Lesnar, of course, may be the only exception to the recent string of great debuts and match-ups.

The second critical element involved with helping a fighter achieve his potential is exposure. The last scenario the UFC ever wants to encounter again is a talented fighter like Nate Marquardt thrust into title contention with little to no mainstream exposure. Although, if UFC 84’s eight televised fights are any indication, Dana White might be having a change of heart in regards to the number of fights that PPV fans deserve to see.

Additionally, the trimming of the UFC roster means the organization has fewer obligations and fight commitments than it did before, which increases the likelihood of seeing young prospects on Fight Night cards or PPV undercards. As MMAPayout.com reported in April, a network TV deal is also expected to come within the next 6-moths, giving the organization an even bigger stage to expose its stars.

With all of that said, the UFC’s roster strategy isn’t without its question marks and potential problems. First and foremost, there is the lingering question that always must be raised in regards to the psyche of the North American sports fan: will they support a non-American superstar the same way they would a Chuck or Tito? Current evidence seems to indicate that non-American fighters do not have the same support and following as Americans. The world’s best pound-for-pound fighter Anderson Silva draws nearly half the PPV buys of Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz when headlining a fight card.

The UFC is currently trying to hedge itself against this xenophobia with plans to continue its expansion into the UK and Canada, while also seriously considering Mexico and Brazil among others. It’s necessary to caution on a diversified strategy, however, because while diversity is a good bet in any business, you cannot spread yourself too thin. S&P’s last report indicated that the company was faced with decreasing margins in 2007 due to the increasing costs largely due to holding events oversees.

Perhaps, then, the UFC’s greatest challenge in the future will not be signing, matching-up, or even finding airtime for its fighters, but rather finding the right kinds of exposure for them. Not every person has the mainstream appeal of a Tito Ortiz, or intimidating, must-see edge of a Chuck Liddell. The UFC will have to work around those inabilities with fighters; especially the ones with little to no English or the personality of vanilla ice cream.

What does this all mean? The UFC is going to have to think outside the box, and possibly undergo a shift in its higher-level positioning strategies. For years, the organization has maintained a brand building strategy: organization first. Although it has served the company well – MMA and the UFC have largely become synonymous in North America – the strategy is probably outdated.

If you look at the rest of the professional sports making headlines with the major publications you’ll notice that they’re all driven by the individuals. Nobody is in love with the NFL or NBA or Major League Baseball and certainly not the NHL. The fans are in love with the teams, players, and personalities associated with the league: the Brett Favre’s, Lebron James’, Derek Jeter’s, and Sidney Crosby’s of the sports world. Thus the next step towards true mainstream acceptance lies within creating the bigger, badder, and ultimately better Chuck Liddell’s and Tito Ortiz’s of the future.

The ducks are essentially in a row for the UFC at this point in their life cycle: they’ve got the right roster building strategy and are beginning to develop some great fighters. The question is whether or not they’re truly going to push the fighters and allow them to bring the sport into the mainstream. That type of complete roster building strategy could truly make dollars and sense for the organization.

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