Network, Sponsor Positions on MMA Thawing

June 14, 2010

John Ourand and Terry Lefton of the Sports Business Journal have contributed an article to this week’s Fight Edition that gives us some good information on what current television executives and marketing industry people are saying about the sport.

Television executives:

When you ask John Papa if the added MMA attention means that ESPN is any closer to bringing live MMA events to ESPN or ESPN2, the vice president of strategic program planning demurs. “Currently, we’re not pursuing live events,” Papa said. “But we’ve gotten to a point where the sport has grown. We’re going to continue to monitor how it’s received and how it does.”

It’s the same story with Fox, where Fox Sports Net was one of the first television outlets to show MMA matches. Fox Sports en Español has carried MMA matches for several years, and its website covers the sport. Still, as he has said for many years, Fox Sports Chairman David Hill remains turned off by some of the more violent aspects of the sport. But it appears his position is thawing.

“There’s no dispute that MMA has grown in popularity over the last several years, especially with young men,” Hill said. “There are elements to it, like hitting a guy who’s down, that I still have a problem with, but today it is more a sport to consider rather than one to dismiss out of hand.”

Marketing standpoint:

“MMA has become more accepted, especially from a media-buying perspective, but there are still some brands that think any association will mean there will be blood on their logo,” said Bechtel, whose company sells media and marketing rights for the Bellator MMA circuit, which is on Fox Sports Net, NBC and Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Mun2. “But no one can deny the numbers or the demos MMA is getting, and it’s killing boxing, which does have some mainstream advertisers.”

Payout Perspective:

The television and sponsorship communities are slowly opening up to MMA, but it’s very much a cautious approach. No one wants to move too fast and risk losing a larger segment of their audience, just to pick up the growing, but still niche, MMA demographic. It’s a battle and process – these two things we know – and mainstream acceptance certainly isn’t going to happen over night.

However, I’m inclined to think we’ll begin seeing more and more company’s dip their toes in the water with sub-brands that are somewhat distanced from their core products (and those that perhaps have a less conservative brand image). In the same way that Pepsi is jumping in with AMP Energy, we could begin to see auto and consumer electronics manufacturers jump into the fray.

4 Responses to “Network, Sponsor Positions on MMA Thawing”

  1. Matt C. on June 14th, 2010 8:33 PM

    Is there any one thing that could tip the scales for a flood of mainstream sponsors to come in?

    Say if ESPN signed a deal to broadcast live UFC events would that open the gates for an influx of mainstream sponsors? Or is there one major blue chip corporation that if they jumped in on sponsoring MMA could that open the gates for a much larger influx?

    I guess I’m just wondering if there is any one thing that could speed up the process of acceptance or if no matter what happens it will just be a slow gradual climb.

  2. mmaguru on June 14th, 2010 8:35 PM

    I’ve been a fan of MMA since the second UFC. I’ve watched the growths and declines over that period several times. I don’t believe MMA will ever be mainstream to the extent of the big 4 sports in North America, nor will it reach even a close level of popularity of world sports such as soccer, tennis, F1, etc. MMA will always be popular amongst a “core” fan base and will tap into the mainstream so called “casual” fans as the sport hits it’s peaks, however, anyone expecting the sport to become mainstream like basketball will have to wait a very very long time because it will not come to past. If we look for a good gauge in which to base MMA from a business perspective, I think it’s best to look towards the ebs and flows of professional wrestling as well as boxing to some degree. I won’t harp on it too I’m pretty sure we’ve hit peak for this particular cycle. When the next cycle comes is anyone’s guess, but it’s not going to happen for a few more years.

  3. Aaron on June 15th, 2010 9:44 AM

    “Blood on their logo?!”
    It’s TV advertising adjacent to MMA programming. It’s not event or fighter sponsorship.

  4. faa on June 18th, 2010 6:28 AM

    i dont think sponsors would totally be sold to mma..because 1 there is only one company owning the whole mma sport landscape..the fertita casino brothers…2.. ufc and mma would continue to grow like the wwe and it would remain huge…but come on you have a president who goes out of line most of the time when his pissed..homophobic remarks,admitting to paying writers,controlling fighters..and now gets pissed at drug testing and as always acting like a kid that because koshcheck wanted a drug test from the usda…all of a sudden Dana is opening the possibility of silva fighting st piere..what a kid it was funny in the start..but dana s antics is just getting boring and pathetic….

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