Fighter Sponsorships and Assessing ROI

October 12, 2009

The sponsorship of fighters is very crucial for the mixed martial arts industry, because it represents a form of income which can often mean the difference between the fighter working a second job or training full-time. The benefits of which are obvious.

Moreover, this sponsorship is also a larger endorsement of the sport of MMA as a whole. It signals to the sports community – and to some extent the world – that MMA is legitimate in the eyes of the sponsoring company.

Thus, it makes sense to look at ways in which MMA can improve the value that sponsors get for their money – i.e., increase ROI. Not only is it good practice to look out for the best interests of your business partners, but it also stands to reason that the more value MMA can create for its sponsors, the more sponsorship money it will receive in the long run.

While the business world has yet to come up with any solid quantitative measure for sponsorship ROI, general assessments can be made as to whether something is working or not.

The fundamental purpose of sponsorship is to generate consumer recall – the act of remembering a brand’s association with a person, place, or event. Companies need and want to embed their brand within the mind of the consumer, and sponsorship aids in this process.

But there is now a growing body of evidence to suggest that consumer recall is heavily influenced by pre-existing brand (logo) recognition. It may also suggest that the ROI for companies with low amounts of pre-existing brand recognition is, in many cases, quite low.

Now, generally, pre-existing brand recognition isn’t a problem for the blue chip companies that seem to be sprinting towards MMA these days. It is an issue, however, for many up-and-coming MMA-based companies (clothing brands, supplements, etc) looking to build their brand through tiny bit sponsorships on a fighter’s clothing. Unless a brand without pre-existing recognition can afford to be the exclusive sponsor of a fighter – or one of a few sponsors for a very popular fighter – that investment isn’t likely to have the desired effect.

Why is this so? The brain works in such a way as to recognize familiar visuals before all others. It’s why you can almost always pick out the face of a friend in a crowd, or another model of the same car that you’re driving as you make your way to work. It’s simply a shortcut for your brain to help manage and process enormous loads of information.

Paralleling some of these examples into the fast and furious sport of MMA, the consumer is likely to only recognize the brands that he or she is already familiar with:

1. Tyson Griffin at UFC 103. Griffin had no less than 12 different logos on his pre-fight banner. What kind of ROI were any of those sponsors getting? The brain might recognize two very familiar logos, but it doesn’t even bother with the rest unless the consumer is really focusing.

2. Donald Cerrone at WEC 43. Cerrone fought Henderson for the interim lightweight title in what was probably a candidate for fight of the year. He had probably 8-10 different logos on his fight shorts, but was anyone in the audience or watching at home able to recognize and recall more than two?

Where’s the ROI for these sponsors? The answer: it’s not there, not for many of them.

The question now appropriately becomes, what can a company do to help its ROI (pre-existing recognition or otherwise)?

  • Eliminate competition and distractions. A cluttered t-shirt or pair of fight shorts isn’t going to help your brand unless you’re the strongest brand within that clutter. Even then the mess of logos is likely to make the brain give up altogether.
  • Simple and striking logo design. A logo that is simple and striking will catch the eye of the viewer more easily than something that is incomprehensibly gawdy and colourful. Badboy is a great example of one of the few MMA companies that’s got a catchy logo that bucks the current MMA trend (though even their shirts can become cluttered).
  • Don’t be an imitator. The uniqueness of the nike logo is what allows it to stand out. Relatedly within MMA, there are far too many Affliction knock-offs on the market. The entire gothic skulls and bones look is getting played out pretty quickly.
  • Sponsor the fighter beyond the cage. It’s very difficult to build a brand, or receive adequate ROI when the consumer is only seeing the association in a single place and for a short period of time. The diversity and frequency of an association should lead to better recall.

9 Responses to “Fighter Sponsorships and Assessing ROI”

  1. Ross on October 12th, 2009 5:38 AM

    This is something I’ve wondered about myself. I must admit I pay little attention to what sponsors a fighter has.

    I do think that in some cases though the sponsors aren’t overly concerned with how visible the logo is on the fighters shorts, but rather the ‘bragging rights’ that come with being a sponsor.

    For example it gives them an opportunity to mention in promotional materials, their website, etc that they are sponsoring the fighter which can give them more credibility and legitimacy in the sport.

    Keep up the good work with the site, always an interesting read!

  2. Brain Smasher on October 12th, 2009 3:52 PM

    Great article. I have always wondered why company’s would, IMO, waste money throwing little obscure logos on “products”. Its the same in all sports. Even at the local race tracks you see a little sticker of a company on the fender of the card. Why not pony up the dough and become an exclusive sponsor of the Athlete? If you are for example “Bobs tire barn”. Why would you throw money away for that little logo that does nothing. Actually make a real investment that may see some return. Make the sponsor exclusive. Bring the fighter, race car and driver, etc to your company for meet and greet, photos, autographs, etc. This is how you make the best of your endorsement.

    Being one of a dozen little logos on a athlete may as well be classified as a donation. Because you wont see anything in return.

  3. JJM on October 13th, 2009 9:28 AM

    Good write up. I agree that Cerrone’s shorts were chaotic at best, Henderson’s on the other hand were probably the best shorts of the night regarding ROI for the sponsors. A good opportunity got even better with the fact that Cerrone’s shorts were difficult to distinguish much of anything on.

    Another thing I’d like to point out is that many fighters have competing brands on their shorts and banner. What good does it do for a clothing company when 2 other MMA apparel companies are also a sponsor of the same fighter?

    Sponsors should look for these qualities when selecting the proper sponsorship choice for them, and I think we will see it increasing as other industries become MMA sponsors and the sport continues to grow and evolve.

  4. Superion on October 13th, 2009 12:44 PM

    A lot of it depends on the fighter’s agent.

    A good agent will take the necessary steps to understand the sponsor’s brand and develop a marketing plan with his fighter(s). An agent who is only pasting a sponsor’s logo onto apparel or a banner is doing a disservice to both the fighter and sponsor.

    A mutually beneficial and profittable arrangement is necessary for any lasting engagement.

  5. matt c. on October 15th, 2009 2:45 PM

    Good write up but one key point that is not addressed is the ROLE that sponsorships play in the overall marketing plan of a company. You are correct in that if Company X is banking on a logo spot on a non-main event fighter’s shorts to build brand awareness, that it will result in a fail. Even multiple sponsorships across multiple fight cards will only begin to build a recognition in the consumers mind. But the most important piece to this conversation is HOW a sponsorship plays into a larger mktg plan.
    Companies should be looking at fighters as a media buy – b/c at its core, thats what we are talking about. Buying a billboard, a magazine ad, tv spot or a patch on a fighters shorts is exactly the same thing. Kelsey touches on this point but doesn’t take it far enough. The logo design makes no difference here. Get your logo on the right fighters, have repeated exposures on multiple fight cards and SUPPORT that exposure with product that your consumers can actually find. MMA companies need to know that their fans live and breath online. A decent website and basic paid search advertising is a must. Building relationships with retail vendors (both online and brick/mortar) is vital. Only when these pieces are in place should a company begin to think about paying the UFC and the fighter (yes guys, UFC is getting a piece of the individual sponsorship $$).

    Too many small companies have spent real dollars splattering their logos on fighters only to show nothing from it. Think of the fighter and his shorts/t-shirt as a media buy, that is only a piece of a full mktg plan, and then you can start the conversation about ROI.

  6. Anon on October 15th, 2009 3:52 PM

    Just a heads up, the brand you were referencing in the second bullet point is spelled Bad Boy.

  7. Bob on October 16th, 2009 8:19 AM

    Two things: First; How about telling us what the Abbreviation and acronym “ROI” stand for…? Second; Why not a follow up article on how a young start-up fighter might seek & acquire sponsorship? For example methods & strategies and amounts of potential $ amounts. I think that that would be an interesting Money Article… Thanks!

  8. Brain Smasher on October 16th, 2009 3:34 PM

    It stand for “Return on Investment”, The term is often used on MMA payout. So its understandable the writers assume everyone already knows the meaning.

  9. UFC Fighter » Valuing Sponsorships in MMA | MMA Fight News - MMA News, MMA Gear … on November 30th, 2009 8:06 PM

    […] MMAPayout.com has talked a lot about sponsorships in the past few months, but a great deal of that discussion has avoided fighter sponsorship in favour of those surrounding corporate sports properties. The Bud Light and Harley-Davidson deals within the industry naturally draw a lot of attention. However, in the long run, they are no more important than the sponsorships or endorsements that the fighters are receiving (e.g., GSP-Under Armour). […]

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