Sponsor spotlight: Safe Auto Insurance – Part 1

November 30, 2010

MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with first time fight sponsor Safe Auto Insurance and MMA Management company VF Elite Sports Agency about Safe Auto’s foray into sponsoring UFC fighters. The first part will focus on Safe Auto. The second part will focus on VF Elite Sports Agency.  

Safe Auto and VF have entered into an agreement where Safe Auto will sponsor VF represented fighters.

Safe Auto is an Ohio based company of about 1,000 employees offering affordable, state-minimum auto insurance to automobile drivers in 14 states.

Elie Deshe, VP of Emerging Media for Safe Auto Insurance, spoke to MMA Payout while en route to speak with Thiago Silva, one of its newest members of its fight team. Silva fights Brandon Vera on Jan. 1st. In addition to Silva, Safe Auto will sponsor Stephan Bonnar on Dec. 4th at the Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale, Clay Guida on Jan. 1st at UFC 125 and Jake Ellenberger at Ultimate Fight Night 23 on Jan. 22nd. Travis Browne was Safe Auto’s first sponsored fighter at UFC 120. 

MP: Have you been involved in any other sports-related sponsorships?

SA: In the past, SA was involved in sponsorships with the NFL, the NBA and specifically with the Cleveland Cavaliers. SA has also sponsored a truck in the NASCAR truck series. Deshe indicated that while some SA employees were MMA fans, others did not know of the sport. However, with the sponsorship, more SA employees are aware of MMA.

MP: What demographic are you trying to reach with your sponsorship?

SA: The 18-49 (age group) demographic and anyone that needs insurance. This covers a lot of different groups.

MP: What does SA want out of the sponsorship?

SA: Its more about having a presence in all of the events. SA doesn’t want to be seen in just one shot. We want people to think of SA when they think of auto insurance. This sort of goes along with our philosophy–we’re always around.

MP: Do you have a say as to the fighters that sponsor SA?

SA: Obviously, SA approves of the fighters. They must portray a good image. We have been very happy with the guys (identified to sponsor SA in upcoming fights).

MP:  How long is your sponsorship commitment?

SA: 1 year.

MP: What measurement will you use to determine the success of sponsoring MMA fighters?

SA: We’re going to be launching a website for the Safe Auto Fight Team (www.safeauto.com/mma) to allow people to have access to the fighters.  The web site will feature interviews and interactive contests. There are ways to measure that sort of traffic and interest. We hope that this definitely leads to more sales. *The web site is currently online.

Below is a video of SA sponsor Stephan Bonnar, featured on the Safe Auto MMA site.

MP: What type of fight night placement do you have on the fighters?

SA: Every (SA) fighter has a hat (on walkout), placement on their fight banner and rear placement on their shorts. SA discussed with VF Elite (fighter’s representatives) the need for consistency with its placement (of the SA logo) on the fighters and they understood.

Note: Stephan Bonnar is not a VF represented fighter but an agreement was made between VF and Bonnar’s representatives where Safe Auto will sponsor Bonnar.

Maximum Fighting Championships partners with entertainment agency

November 29, 2010

The Canadian-based Maximum Fighting Championship (MFC) announced a partnership with entertainment agency S.L. Feldman and Associates (SLFA).

According to Monday’s press release:

“I’m very enthused and optimistic about the partnership with S.L Feldman & Associates”, says Mark Pavelich, Owner/President of MFC. “They bring decades of experience in live events, talent development, marketing and sponsorships to the table and that coupled with the explosive MFC business we envision an extremely successful collaboration.”

Jeff Craib, Senior Vice President at Feldman states, “We’re all very excited for this new joint venture with Mark. The MFC is flourishing, and our collective goal will be to continue to make inroads into further expanding the MFC business and its excellent and growing stable of world class fighters. Justin Sudds, Sr. Agent at Feldman states, “As SLFA continues to expand into many new areas of live entertainment, we’re thrilled to be working with Mark and his strong MFC business.”

Payout Perspective:

This is a positive move for MFC as it attempts to expand beyond its core base of fans. If you have not seen an MFC card, hopefully you can catch one on HD Net or The Fight Network. The fights are entertaining and feature many ex-UFC vets. Although the press release does not indicate any specifics, it will be interesting to see in what capacity SLFA will work with MFC. It could assist with a number of things including TV production, recruiting more talent, live event management and marketing for the MFC.

The UFC Fan Base

November 29, 2010

There’s no shortage of news or information available regarding the UFC’s growth from a pay-per-view or gate perspective, but there’s considerably less information where the growth of its fan base is concerned. I suspect this is the case because the UFC is a relatively new sporting phenomenon that’s yet to gain the requisite level of acceptance that would make it worthwhile for survey companies to collect the data from consumers needed to produce relevant information on the fan base. However, the times are changing and we’re now beginning to see some information emerge related to the demographics and psychographics of the UFC fan.

Today, we’ll be taking a glimpse at the age and gender demographics of the UFC. I’ve also included information from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, and MLS to provide some context to the overall sports landscape, which will help to put the UFC’s current fan base into perspective – both its strengths and shortcomings.

The following information was mined from the Simmons Research Database.

Notes and Definitions

The title of this article and its subject matter should not imply a bias towards the UFC. The survey was simply conducted in a manner that quizzed its respondents on a variety of topics, including their interest in professional sports leagues. I’ll remind you that while the interest in a league implies a larger interest in the sport, this is sometimes not the case. There are many “fans” that are interested in the UFC but not other MMA; likewise there are “fans” interested in the NFL but not college or high school football.

Thus, the “fan” is defined as someone that is “very”, “somewhat”, or “a little bit” interested in the league in question. These are obviously subjective terms open to a very large spectrum of interpretation, which is why I’ve also set out to compare these figures against the “avid fan” – someone that is “very” interested in the league in question.

I’ll also caution that the following sets of information are just estimates based on data in the Simmons Database. Other polls and databases have also produced similar information (e.g., ESPN Sports Poll and Scarborough) to support some of the analysis done below. However, I encourage everyone to read the following a natural level  skepticism.

Americans 18+

The size of the UFC fan base in the United States is estimated to be approximately 31 million people. You can see below how this compares to the size of the general fan base of the other major sports played in the US over the last three years. Note that the UFC was the only property to experience growth in its fan base of the last three years.

The size of the UFC avid fan base in the United States is estimated to be approximately 11 million people or 35% of the overall fan base. Note, again, that the UFC and the NHL were the only to properties to grow their avid fan bases over the last three years.

The avid fan as a percentage of all fans gives us an interesting look at how competitive the UFC is among most sports properties. The UFC has been able to match the avidity of most sports properties with the exception of the NFL. The NFL is the sports league model in many respects, but the way it has managed to engage its fans is what truly allows it to generate revenues far greater than any other league. Engaged fans are more apt to receive and comprehend advertiser and sponsor messages. When these television networks and corporate sponsors are evaluating a property they look to how well a property can engage its fans (or what opportunities they have to engage those fans). Thus, one of the mid-to-long term objectives and challenges for the UFC moving forward is to increase the level of avidity in its fan base to levels beyond 35% and into the 50% range.

I mentioned above the tremendous growth that the UFC has enjoyed over the last few years and the following comparison really puts that into perspective. It’s only over a three year period, but this is the only data we have and that’s largely because the UFC has only become a relevant commercial entity in the last 3-4 years.

Some might argue that 30% growth is meaningless considering the UFC didn’t start out with a lot to begin with, but I reject this counter argument. The UFC owns an interest level commensurate with lower tier sports leagues like the NHL and MLS; no one would dismiss the fan bases of those two leagues as insignificant.

Americans 18-34

The 18-34 demographic – specifically the M18-34 demographic – is always a very important consideration in any fan base analysis, because it is probably the most coveted target audience in the world. Those within the 18-34 demographic possess relatively high levels of disposable income and a demand for luxury goods, but also lack many of the serious financial or family commitments of other demographics.

The numbers for the UFC here aren’t that far off from the NFL or MLB, yet the discrepancy in required sponsorship investment is stunning. If a brand determined that its image was somewhat aligned and fit well with that of the UFC, it could literally own the UFC consumer for $5m/year in sponsorship fees and another $5-10m in activation. Compare that to $100m/year that Bud Light just dumped on the NFL or the $75m/year that Verizon just spent on the NFL.

Is it a risk? Sure. But what isn’t in this day and age. If we’ve all learned one thing in the last 12 months, it’s that no sponsorship is risk-less. Tiger Woods is that case study. However, there remains a sizable opportunity here for a company to come in and completely own a category tied to this sizable demographic for an absolute fraction of the price a company would pay somewhere else. The only two things the company would need to do are a.) commit to activating and b.) find a group of people that know the sport well enough to formulate the right activation plan (I think there are a few people around that might fit that mold!).

Men and Women

Dana White stated some time ago that the split between male and female UFC fans is somewhere in the range of 56-44, but the numbers below indicate that the split is actually closer to 75-25. How do we reconcile this information? I’d venture to guess that 60-40 is a good estimate for the split at live UFC events, but those events are not necessarily an accurate reflection of the entire fan base.

I’m not sure these figures come  as much of a surprise to anyone. MMA is a rough and violent sport that still possesses a brutal image in some circles of the larger population. It will be a while before it can eschew conflicts with this boxing paradigm through which most casual sports fans still view combat sports. However, a 60-40 split across the entire fan base seems inevitable at some point.

Estimating Global Size

The global size of the UFC fan base is difficult to estimate, because there are material components of the fan base not included in the above survey or that do not live in the United States. We must reasonably adjust for American children (12-17), Canadians, British, and other fans throughout the world.

The following is a bit of envelope math using the American 18+ interest level (13%) as a foundation for adjustment and should only be taken as a loose estimate for the purpose of framing a conversation regarding the UFC/MMA fan base.

  • Americans 12-17 at 13%: 800,000. This group accounts for approximately 8% of the American population and assuming the same overall interest levels between adults and children (which is conservative considering that the interest level for MMA is likely to be higher for youth) we arrive at 800,000.
  • Canadians at 18%: 6,000,000. The sport has exploded in the country of 34 million people and the UFC’s interest levels in Canada far exceed that of the US in every demographic; 18% of the entire popular seems like a fair and conservative estimate, which gives us 6 million people.
  • British at 8%: 5,000,000. The sport is slowly picking up speed in Britain, but still not close to enjoying the interest levels in Canada or the US.
  • The World: 20,000,000. The rest of the world — including markets such as Japan, Korea, Brazil, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East — likely numbers into the 20 million range.

The above estimates would then put the global size of the UFC fan base at roughly 65 million. The growth potential is considerably higher, but that’s still a pretty solid number all things considered.

Rockstar Energy Drink and Strikeforce sponsor Holiday Hunt

November 28, 2010

Graciemag.com reports that Rockstar Energy Drink and Strikeforce are sponsoring a Holiday Hunt for prizes in support of Strikeforce’s Dec. 4th event, “Babalu v. Henderson” in St. Louis.

Via Graciemag.com:

In the spirit of the holiday season, Strikeforce and presenting sponsor Rockstar Energy Drink will hold a “Holiday Hunt” that will award lucky winners in St. Louis, each day between Monday, November 29 and Friday, December 3, a prize pack that includes, amongst other goods, tickets to the Henderson vs. Babalu mega-event at Scottrade Center next Saturday, December 4.

Payout Perspective:

Similar to the UFC’s #Hunt4UFC treasure hunts, Strikeforce and Rockstar are using social media to spike fan interest in this Saturday’s fight in St. Louis. Here, we see Strikeforce using facebook, twitter and its website so that fans can check in to utilize codewords to win Rockstar merchandise. The promotion also integrates the venue as one of the prizes is a tour of the Scottrade Center.

Another great example of drumming up fan interest through social media.  This strategy reaches out to the intended demographic by giving fans a chance to win prizes. For Rockstar, its another way to utilize its sponsorship of the event. Unlike the UFC version, the “Holiday Hunt” does not appear to be giving away authentic fighter merchandise. Not sure if this is a positive or negative, just a difference from #Hunt4UFC.

Limited edition Silva watch available on Black Friday

November 26, 2010

UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva has partnered with watchmaker Meister in releasing limited edition watches with the identifiable Silva “killer bee” logo.

The limited edition watches are available online at Meister’s web site. Only 50 of the 200 made will be available online. The remaining watches will be distributed to select Meister retailers.

Via MMA Junkie:

Previous special-edition pieces issued by Meister International include two watches created with rapper Bun B, formerly of the hip hop duo UGK. The company’s products are also endorsed by musician Steve Aoki and rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon.

The Meister watch is just the latest in a series of products bearing Silva’s signature logo. Sinister Brand Clothing, a California-based apparel company recently acquired by Authentic Brands Group, has long created clothing bearing the killer bee.

Payout Perspective:

The Spider’s deal with Meister is another example of the growing acceptance of mainstream businesses willing to partner with MMA. Despite Silva’s recent performances, he still is an identifiable figure in the UFC and the middleweight champion. Based on Meister’s past limited edition endorsees, it focuses on the younger, hip community with some disposable income. The growing popularity of MMA amongst the younger 18-34 demographic makes the partnership with Silva make sense.

UFC-WEC merger means more jobs on the line

November 25, 2010

This week’s expulsion of Gerald Harris from the UFC is a sign of things to come from the UFC. With the UFC-WEC merger, the UFC will expect more from its fighters, or they will be let go.

MMA Fighting explains:

The UFC has examined the cold, hard numbers of the merger and come to the conclusion that their roster will still house roughly 200 fighters under contract at any given time. In the past, that meant about 40 fighters for each of five divisions. Now, it’s roughly 28 men for each of seven divisions.

The reason the roster is not expanding is because Zuffa staged 32 events last year (24 UFC, 8 WEC), but with the loss of the WEC brand, the company is likely to stage only 26 events in 2011. White feels that the promotion has essentially maxed out the number of annual pay-per-views at about 15 or 16 per year, so that would leave 10-11 free events to be broadcast between cable partners Spike and Versus.

That number could increase if a new television deal is struck, but if it doesn’t, that’s a net result of around 60 fewer matches over the course of 2011. So growing the roster would actually result in a glut of more fighters with fewer shows on which to put them.

Harris was previously let go by the UFC after appearing on TUF. After a successful stint on the regional circuit, he was welcomed backed by the UFC. Many fans are perplexed by the move since Harris was on a 10 fight win streak, including 2 KOs of the Night, prior to UFC 123’s loss.

Payout Perspective:

Unfortunately the numbers laid out show that Dana White has to make some tough decisions regarding personnel. However, it seems that Harris’ dismissal was more of an example to the fighters that they were on notice that their jobs were dependent on their performances in the Octagon. I would gather that the message was directed to the younger, less-established, mid to lower card fighters than the main eventers. The fact still remains that while the roster is expanding and the UFC is adding more weight divisions, it also means less opportunities to be on a card.

The UFC seems to be spinning the dismissals of underperforming fighters as a service to its fans. It wants exciting fights and doesn’t want its fighters to dance around the cage. The Harris dismissal is a sign that it will have a short leash for its fighters. Despite Harris’ past exciting fights which ended in KOs, one underwhelming performance cost him.

As for Harris and others released from the UFC, they can land in Strikeforce, which would bolster Strikeforce’sfight cards and enable them to staff its roster of quality fighters. There are also other options out there too (e.g. Bellator, Shine Fights, MFC, etc.). But, its unlikely that fighters would receive as much monetarily as they may receive in the UFC.

Also, it will be interesting to see if some fighters leave the UFC on their own accord if they find themselves buried down the roster. Elite fighters have a small window of time to be in their prime and waiting in line to fight maybe once a year might not sit well. It would hurt the pocketbook of someone needing to fight to earn a living.

EA Sports MMA and UFC Undisputed 2010 Updates Plus Black Friday Deals

November 24, 2010

In the spirit of the holidays, I would like to share some great deals for MMA and video game fans who have held off buying any titles until the holiday deals to save a couple of bucks.  I will also discuss the recent EA Sports MMA and UFC Undisputed 2010 iPhone/iPad releases along with overall sale figures.

Best Buy Link:


GameStop Link:



EA Sports MMA and UFC Undisputed 2010 Updates:

UFC Undisputed 2010 was released on the iPad and iPhone by THQ Wireless on Nov 12, 2010 (selling for $6.99) just a few weeks after EA Sports MMA was released by EA Mobile (selling for $4.99) on the same platforms on October 20, 2010. As of today, EA Sports MMA has had 405 customers review the app, while UFC Undisputed 2010 has only had 17 customers review the app.

Both games have received good customer feedback, but it appears that after 12 days of being available on the Apple Store, UFC Undisputed has not taken off with the fans.  It is currently not in to the top 50 most popular apps or in the top grossing apps, where EA Sports MMA was ranked in the top 35 most popular paid apps and ranked as the 12th most grossing app for apple a week after it was released. Not exactly sure why Undisputed has not taken off on the iPhone/iPad yet considering the good reviews so far, but the $2 dollar pricing difference between the games could be impacting the sales, along with THQ releasing the mobile version of the game months after the console version was already released.

On the console side, EA Sports MMA has sold roughly 45,000 copies in its first month of release according to GameIndustry.biz.  On the other hand, UFC Undisputed 2010 roughly sold 413,000 copies in its first mont of sales, which was considered disappointing due to the lofty expectations Undisputed 2009 created for THQ.

The year has been a tough one for MMA video game releases, where analysts attributed the weaker than expected sales due to releasing the games around the same dates blockbusters like Red Dead Redemption (over 1.5 million copies sold worldwide) and Fallout: New Vegas (over 5 million copies shipped worldwide) were set to also release. GameSpot reports that “… a number of analysts–Wilson included–circulated notes to investors offering their takes on what did and didn’t live up to expectations. While NBA 2K11 and Fallout: New Vegas both exceeded Wilson’s expectations, many of the month’s other high-profile games did not. In particular, Wilson called NBA Jam for the Wii and EA MMA “dismal failures so far.”

THQ’s bottom line was heavily impacted this year due to lower than expected game sales, which include the UFC Undisputed 2010 sales, as the company saw their shares sharply drop from $8.29/share to $5.01/share as it currently stands this year.  In response, THQ has pushed out their release cycle from 12 months to 18 months, hoping to get better results on their next release. EA Sports, who reportedly lost over $200 million last quarter, originally announced to release EA Sports MMA every other year alternating with a Fight Night release. At the moment, EA has said that it is too early to make any decisions on a future EA Sports MMA title, as they will wait and analyze the sale numbers throughout the holiday season.

UFC 123 Prelims score solid 1.5 million viewers

November 23, 2010

UFC 123 Prelims on SpikeTV garnered a strong audience of 1.5 million viewers for a 1.1 household rating. It earned a 1.31 in M18-49 and a 1.21 in M18-34. Spike TV confirmed this information in an email to MMA Payout.

The numbers are tied for the third all-time highest “UFC Prelims” rating according to MMA Junkie. UFC 109’s Prelims scored the highest rating with 1.9 million viewers. (Interesting since UFC 109’s prelims featured Melvin Guillard and Mac Danzig).

Payout Perspective:

Strong numbers for the lead-in to Saturday’s UFC 123 PPV. This could be due in part to strong matchups on the Prelims: Munoz/Simpson and Foster/Brown. With the influx of new fighters coming to the UFC, it will be interesting to see how the UFC utilizes the prelim show. They could definitely include PPV-quality fighters on SpikeTV which would create interest for the PPV.

Frank Shamrock on Jimmy Fallon talking Strikeforce and anti-bullying campaign

November 23, 2010

Strikeforce’s Frank Shamrock made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last Thursday to promote Strikeforce’s Dec. 4th event as well as his anti-bullying campaign, Stand Up Together.

Payout Perspective:

Shamrock’s appearance is a big step for the mainstream visibility for Strikeforce. I thought he was great but I would be interested in knowing whether the casual MMA fan knew the names Babalu Sobral or Dan Henderson, even if both were in the UFC at one time.  It’s a good start for Strikeforce if they can get Shamrock on as a regular guest to promote Strikeforce fights.  He’s a likeable guy and seems to understand Fallon’s comedy.

As for the anti-bullying campaign, it was a good way for Shamrock to leverage his appearance to promote his non-profit. The campaign makes sense for Shamrock since it could reshape the public perception of MMA fighters like Shamrock, appeal to a wider audience and elevate his image. Although not a target for bullying, Shamrock’s cause shows empathy for people that are susceptible to bullying.

via youtube.com/thefrankshamrock

Edgar inspires NY Jets with pre-game speech

November 22, 2010

UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar spoke to the New York Jets this past Saturday night prior to the Jets’ Sunday afternoon game against the Houston Texans. Edgar was brought in by Jets head coach Rex Ryan, an MMA fan, to impress upon the players the importance of mental toughness.

Via Yahoo Sports:

Edgar spoke to the Jets about mental toughness and relayed a story back to the squad about his famous 2007 win over Tyson Griffin in which he had to battle out of a last minute submission attempt by his opponent to secure the win.

The talk must have inspired the Jets scored a last minute touchdown to beat the Texans 30-27.

Mark Sanchez spoke about Edgar’s speech after the Jets come from behind win:

“The guy is barely taller than this podium, and this guy beat BJ Penn in a UFC Championship bout,” Sanchez said following the game. “Everybody counted him out. They wanted a rematch and he went back and beat him even worse. Talk about a guy who is mentally tough and physically tough. He came in and spoke to the team last night. It was a perfect time. He talked about never giving up, being counted out, playing until the end; fighting and believing in yourself and your team and the people around you. Those were the only one telling him he could win the fight. Everyone else was counting him out.

“I think there’s a lot of people who counted us [the Jets] out tonight and last week and the week before that. We just look at each other look at the guys wearing the Jets decals and we know we have a chance until the thing is over. It was perfect for Rex to bring in a guy like that [Edgar] and give us a little extra inspiration so it was great for Frankie to come in.”

Payout Perspective:

Edgar’s invitation to speak with the Jets is another sign of the influence of MMA. Many professional athletes are MMA fans and respect the MMA athlete for what they do and the necessary mental acuity to compete in the octagon.

For Edgar, he enjoyed his experience as shown through his tweet

Overall, a great PR appearance by Edgar. Not only does it elevate his own name and hype his fight January 1, his speech resonated with the Jets. I’m sure some NFL players gained much respect and admiration for his accomplishments.

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