MMA Branding Theory 101

February 23, 2009

The old saw that there is more than one way to skin a cat is never more true than in the world of MMA. Companies looking to goose sales through sponsorship of MMA fighters do so through a multitude of ways, each with their own viewpoints as to effectiveness. Some go for quantity while others stress quality and then there are those seeking out a middle ground.

Dan Henderson is an example of a fighter that looks to maximize revenue through including the greatest possible number of sponsors in his marketing efforts. With the Daytona 500 just passed, it is fair to say this train of thought lends itself to more of a NASCAR-ification of sponsorship in MMA. An example of this strategy is seen in his walk out jersey for UFC 93, where he faced of with Rich Franklin in the main event.


Henderson has total of 10 sponsors on his shirt alone. Some argue that whatever marketing message that companies are looking to achieve is lost in the clutter and sheer numbers game of such a strategy. The description of Max Cady in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear stating “I don’t know whether to look at him or read him” seems apropos to Hendo during his walk-out. On the other hand, such a strategy does allow a greater variety of sponsors to be able to have access to sell their message in the Octagon. Having a more dominant message is tied to paying a higher premium, which can be something of a limiting factor for some looking to sponsor fighters.

Some others, like Affliction or Cage Fighter for example, pay for the right to have an uncluttered artist’s pallet. They value a “clean” scenario when presenting their marketing message. When they sponsor fighters it is often with their brand being the only one present on the gear. An example of this would be Mark Coleman’s walk-in shirt for UFC 93, which sported MMA Authentics brands only:

It is hard to argue the effectiveness of this approach, but it often comes with a premium price tag attached. For smaller businesses, sole sponsorship is possible on the lower end of the card but the price tag increases as you move up the card, often times pricing the small business out of the market.

Even when their is a happy medium between these two methods, there are are often certain restrictions on how big and how many additional sponsors can be added to the mix. Tapout, for one, takes measures to make sure their logos are taking precedence and are also limiting the amount of branding dissonance by limiting the number of other sponsors allowed on their fighters. The standard contract with TapouT includes the following clause:

Except as set forth above, Fighter shall have the right to add up to four logos of the other companies to the clothing bearing the logo of Company, so long as the other company is not another clothing/gear manufacturer and so long as the other logos are not larger then the Tapout logo.

As you can see, there are many different approaches to getting you brand in front of the vaunted demographics of the average UFC fan. One is not necessarily better than the others, but rather each fill a needed spot in sponsorship food chain.

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