Shamrock Inc: Frank Talks Business and Brand Building

November 5, 2008

Despite having only six fights in the past nine years – all of them outside the UFC – Frank Shamrock has kept his name recognition high and built a multi-faceted business with almost 30 full-time employees.   In a recent interview with MMAPayout.com, Shamrock described his keys to success, while offering some advice to anyone hoping to follow in his footsteps.

“I’m no closet genius,” said Shamrock.  “I learned through trial and error.  It took me 7-8 years to build my business and it was a good time for me because the sport was small then.  I was blessed in that way.”
But times have obviously changed.  “The days of gun slinging and hanging out in this business are gone,” he says. “The dollars are bigger and the sport of MMA keeps moving closer to the mainstream.  Everyone’s rushing to the sport because it’s very popular and cool, but your brand needs to be consistent.”

Shamrock business model in recent years includes 70% of revenue from fighting, 15-18% from licensing, and 12% from consulting.  The latter consists of fees Shamrock earns from promotions like Elite XC, and in the past, UFC, offering advice and support.  He takes cash and/or equity as payment, and sometimes will invest his own capital.

He believes in taking risks, but only calculated ones.  “I’ve taken some risks with my brand, but they were only risks where the payoff was way beyond the risk.”  Over time, he’s changed his approach.  “I’ve got a life and longevity plan,” he said.  “I want to be healthy and happy, but I have to be in really good shape and stay at the highest level.  Otherwise my brand will suffer and people will be kicking my ass.”  As a result, Shamrock has been much more deliberate about how he plans and promotes his fights.  “My plan is to fight for 10 more years, until I’m 45, but the risks get higher every year as I get older, so I work to raise the value of each fight each time,” by amping up the promotion and buildup, and commanding higher revenues.

At the same time, he continues to diversify his business outside the ring, landing some national, mainstream projects like “MMA for Dummies” with Wiley Publishing and one of the crown jewels of sports licensing deals, an MMA videogame by EA Sports that hits stores in 2010.

When he talks business, Shamrock peppers the conversation with phrases like “revenue targets” and “performance goals” which are more typical of an MBA than an MMA legend.  He credits “good mentors and partners” like his attorney Henry Holmes and Strikeforce co-CEO Scott Coker.   He has also worked hard to build a strong team.  “We train, develop and manage people from the MMA and business community.  I have good people.  Some are from the MMA community, some from other professions.”

Shamrock also believes personal integrity has been a strong contributor to his success.  “When you’re the type of business person that looks you in the eye, shakes hands and says, ‘You’ve got a deal,’ and you stick to it, you attract hungry, focused people.”

It’s a lack of integrity that he says contributed to the downfall of Elite XC, of which he was a “major shareholder.”  “You should treat people like athletes and artists,” he says, “they didn’t do either.”  The lesson from their failure, Shamrock said, is that experience, not capital, is the most important contributor to success in MMA.  “In a way they [Elite XC] were leaders because they lined up CBS and Showtime and no one had ever done that before.  But they burned through $60 million because no one modeled the business and industry.  It was inevitable.”  He also says the management team lacked any kind of focus, hiring people indiscriminately to work on various projects, none of which contributed to the bottom line.  “I can run out and hire 50 people, but I could also hire one person who knows what they’re doing.”

But can a viable competitor to UFC really emerge?  Shamrock thinks so, but “That person needs to be MMA 3.0.  He needs to understand the business, bring together disillusioned stars, bring them together and get ‘em functioning.”  In all likelihood, however, he believes a “joint venture” approach, ala Affliction and Elite XC, is more likely in the near term.

In the meantime, Shamrock will continue building “Shamrock, Inc.” regardless.  He offers some friendly advice to anyone entering the game.  “These days it doesn’t matter if you’re any good or not.  But you need to pick who you are and run with it.  If your radio call is at 5:30 in the morning, be there, because that’s what the pros do.”

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