Survey: UFC has growth potential but some still skeptical

November 28, 2011

The Sports Business Journal released its results from its annual reader’s survey. While the UFC received some praise, the most telling result was whether sponsors should align its brand with the UFC.

According to the industry publication, of the 1,158 respondents to the question: “If you were a chief marketing officer, would you align your brand with the UFC?” 55 percent of the readers said it would not align its brand with the UFC. 28 percent of the respondent believed it would fit its demo while the other 16 percent had no opinion.

Another survey question indicates that its believed that sports sponsorship will increase slightly in the next five years.

Despite the result that many would not align its brand with the UFC, other responses were positive. Readers ranked the UFC third as a sports property/organization with the most potential growth. Of almost 1,500 respondents, 14 percent ranked the UFC behind the MLS and NHL. It also ranked fourth behind the NFL, MLB and the NHL as the most innovative property. It ranked ahead of the MLS and NBA.

Payout Perspective:

While the results do not define the future of the UFC, or MMA in general, the Sports Business Journal is regarded as an informative source in the sports industry. Its read by many mainstream sports people and I would gather that they are just being introduced to the world of mixed martial arts. The UFC-Fox deal certainly will help with the education and we will see how it will do in next year’s survey. While the UFC is receiving recognition for its growth potential and use of new media, it still seems as though skeptics are concerned about the violence in the sport. This could hurt with the future of landing mainstream sponsors despite its ties with Fox. With the belief that sports sponsorship will increase its spending in the future, the biggest hurdle that the UFC much face if it is to garner sponsors is educating a mainstream audience about its sport.

8 Responses to “Survey: UFC has growth potential but some still skeptical”

  1. Mossman on November 28th, 2011 7:52 AM

    I would take anything the SBJ prints about the UFC with a grain of salt.

    A. It is 1,200 different sales and marketing guys across sports teams and leagues who like to pat themselves on the back. What the hell does some dude who sells season tickets for the Connecticut Sun know about MMA? Does he want to give credit to an up and coming property when he’s out slanging WNBA tickets in a small market that would love to host a fight?

    B. The SBJ has always had a hard on to discount the UFC. It started with their Editor in Chief not liking Dana, and the fact that their “MMA Expert” beat writer… is a failed Boxing Purist. And a self important doucher, if you ever meet him…

    C. You would have to ask “Fortune 500 Marketers” yourself if you ever wanted to get a real answer. and considering these people dont make time for their own mother’s, I have a bit of doubt there is any real representation of advertisers and marketers outside of the “properties” themselves adding input here.

    SBJ, IEG, etc. are very much helpful in terms of reactive news. But they have never, ever been accused of being very proactive and forward thinking in their ways. Hence, the sponsorship industry is very much a copy cat industry…

  2. Creative MMA on November 28th, 2011 9:32 AM

    Thanks for the information. I am not going to get into the scientific validity of the sample etc… (not my place and i don’t have the actually survey and supporting materials)

    It does confirm my suspicion, the UFC is viewed as a niche property and MMA more generally is even smaller (currently) when compared to other sports.

    Think about the history, assets, and culture behind the NHL and MLS. UFC should be happy to come in third behind those sports.

    The good news is that MMA, like boxing, wrestling, and other forms of entertainment, scores to the extreme of the ‘legal’ violence continuum in modern society and violence is always been popular when packaged and marketed well.

    This means the opportunity for the UFC, MMA, and other related businesses is large.

    That said, “crossing the chasm” from the niche to the mainstream is very difficult. The mainstream market is never just a larger version of the existing, niche (early adopter) market — the one that Dana/UFC and others have grown.

    Thanks again for the information, its useful as the industry and the fans consider the future of MMA.

  3. Diego on November 28th, 2011 10:54 AM

    Mossman,

    As usual thanks for the insight into the marketing industry. Although the SBJ has a reactive point of view on MMA which one may or may not agree with, it is interesting to see how that point of view evolves. The UFC is getting high marks in innovation and growth, which suggests that the SBJ is coming around to seeing the value in the promotion, even if 55% of responders would not align their brand (WNBA or other) to the UFC. It will be interesting to see how that number changes in the future.

  4. IronMike on November 30th, 2011 4:17 PM

    The UFC/MMA is somewhere in the middle between Boxing and Professional wrestling. I feel in moving forward they, The UFC, needs to move a bit closer to Boxing. Even thought there is plenty wrong with Boxing, I think the UFC is trying to promote the UFC and not fighters. I feel they are missing tremendous opportunities to develop fighters. Their method of match making is right on paper but wrong in reality. The 20% of the so called hard chore fans appreciate it, but the main stream fan, and new fans they are trying to get couldn’t care less. My god, the heavyweight division has had so many champs the average person is lost and is alienated. There is also way too much of it on TV. I feel the method they are using will only allow the sport to reach a certain level. Every month there is some new name and some new BEST Fighter, how about developing a fighter for some longevity? I see the point that they are trying to make but It will never get the attention of the average sports fan if they don’t change some things. Remember Pro sports is a business. IronMike

  5. BrainSmasher on December 1st, 2011 4:22 PM

    Unfortunately i agree with you Iron Mike.

    Being a hardcore fan i like the everyone fights everyone and the any given sunday aspect of MMA. I hate the boxing mold of “building” fighters. But i think from a business stand point the UFC will go more towards they direction. Not a lot but more than they are now. There is still aspects of it now and the people who know the sport well see it. But i think the UFC will start protecting fighters longer. What IronMike said about HW is true. The longer reign of a HW champ has been 18 months not counting injuries. No one has made it past 2 title defenses in the 14 years of having a HW title.

    We all know it is very hard to make a star. The sport of MMA is set up to not capitolize on them when it does have them. Then goes through a low period trying to find them again. I think the UFC is now at a low point. They carried Chuck and Randy much longer than they were really meaningful. They are still doing it with Tito, Wandy, Hughes, Mir, etc. Trying to hold on to the draws and names they have and use them at times to get over new contenders and champs.

    But tyhere is a double edge sword here. Boxing can set up easy fights due to the nature of the sport. It doesnt have the anythign can happen aspect like MMA has. There is so many weapons that upsets happen much more often. So it would be nice to let a Jon Jones get 10 more easy wins before taking a risk. But that risk is always there. Look at GSP getting beat by Serra. That is the biggest upset in MMA imo. There have been guys we knew little about pull off a big win. But we knew who Serra was. He had never shown any striking or power, or wrestling, or bottom BJJ. He would have never earned a title shot if not getting one by beating castaways on TUF.

    Its going to be something the UFC is going to have to look into. Can the UFC go mainstream with their stars like Brock and GSP only being draws for 2-3 years. Once a guy is no longer the best the UFC keeps throwing them right back to the wolves. So not only does a draw lose a belt and a fight but they dont get any wins to keep respectable and be a draw even without the belt. Rich Franklin is 6-5 going back to his first loss to Silva. Rampage is 4-3 going back to his title loss to Forrest. Chuck went 1-5 going back to losing the belt. That is the case with everyone. Brock just lost the belt and he gets Overeem and im sure another big name over and over after that. Why not give these guys 3-4 wins before throwing them back in with contenders? Then all the guys stay big name draws. Even vs non draws Chuck still sold 475K buys vs Jardine. So these guys still sell even if they are not in high profile fights.

    The one thing that keeps the UFC from getting these guys easy wins after a loss is the time off between fights. Boxers can run off 30 wins trying to make it to the big time. But they do so fighters every 2-3 weeks. The UFC cant carry a guy 2 years to get him 3-4 wins. So guys in non title fighters will have to start fighting without 3-6 month training camps. Which is crazy anyway. The UFC and the fighters will have to change. I am one of the few who is a fan of the sport and not a particular fight. But mainstream is driven by stars and the UFC isnt creating them as fast as they are losing them. I dont believe in protecting guys but at the same time every champ shouldnt go from title holder to .500 fighter either. But the current set up gives no other options.

    /rant

  6. Jose Mendoza on December 3rd, 2011 1:57 AM

    IronMike, BrainSmasher:

    Agreed. Actually, I’ve been preaching that for a while now. The UFC is losing and will continue to lose more stars than it can make the way they were operating. I feel that it was a main reason why they signed with FOX now, after toying with a TV deal since 2007. The PPV numbers have always been increasing up to this year. Now with injury issues and aging stars, they are banking on FOX and FX to create new PPV draws for them … but I am not buying that at the moment.

    If anything, it may force the UFC to change their biz model to not be so heavily dependent on PPV and focus more on TV revenue, but I don’t believe they would be happy with that change. Something is going to have to give in the next few years. Best case scenario obviously would be if FOX platform creates stars, PPV’s increase, and FOX ratings continue to do well, but will be tough to do IMO.

  7. NewGuy on December 5th, 2011 1:16 AM

    There are three main things that hinder MMA and only one of them can be easily fixed:

    1. Gambling. I watch every NFL game because I play fantasy football, do weekly pick’ems and was in a suicide pool. To a lesser extent, when the NCAA basketball tournament starts I’m all over it. Now take into account the millions that bet points, spreads, etc. for NFL, MLB & NBA and you have an audience that watches the sport not just for entertainment but for business.

    I don’t know how MMA will ever capture that level of viewership, especially since the outcome is so subjective whenever there isn’t a KO or stoppage. I think MMA will eventually be seen like boxing in terms of “fixed” or predetermined judges decisions when they go to the cards. Besides, NHL will forever linger behing the other pro sports because it’s too boring gambling on it.

    2. PPV format. This has got to go. When I was rabid about the sport I bought nine a year. This past year only three, including the last one with Shogun and Hendo. There is no way an average fan will follow the sport for any amount of time if he sees any one fighter once a or twice a year on FOX and than told to to pay $50+ to see him fight again.

    WWE blew up when they started showing there superstar entertainers on basic cable every week. If UFC wants to be a real contender then PPV’s have got to end and weekly or bi-weekly fights become a reality.

    I don’t know about you guys but I grew up watching every sport on TV free. There was no way in hell my parents would give me any money for UFC PPV’s and I doubt most parents today will too. How do I know? When I watched WWE as kid I always had to wait till Monday Night Raw to see how Sunday’s PPV went.

    3. No ranking system. How often do you hear networks complain when small market sports teams make the playoffs because the ratings will be terrible? That’s a reality networks face every year but the UFC is able to pick and choose fights at will based on perceived match-ups or excitement.

    To me, that always smacked of favoritism. Fall out of favor with the bosses and look how quickly you get squashed and end up as a prelim fight that only gets viewed on the UFC site. How many of these TUF fighters are kept around simply because they were on the show? Too many in my opinion

    Until a stand-alone ranking system is put in place casual viewers of MMA, like many of my friends, just assume some fighters are pushed over others.

  8. BrainSmasher on December 5th, 2011 4:26 PM

    I think PPV’s will have to got up. It will not hard not to. They will get new viewers for sure with their 4 FOX shows and create at least some new fans worst case scenario. How many more PPVs is the question. I agree it will be tought. To be a huge hit the UFC has to do PPV level events 4 times a year on FOX. Which requires even more stars unless you decrease the number of PPVs. In the end the UFC will always be volatile under the current system. Even fi they create stars they will still have problems. If they have to many stars they have to fight them. Which means either more events or more stacked cards. That will always lead to low points when injures, loss’, and retirement hit. The you either have to many events or the cards are weak by comparison.

    I think the UFC needs to look into ways to get guys fighting more often. At least 4 times per year. Then they need to look at ways they can have multiple superstars in each weight class at one time. Currently if you are not a Silva or GSP on a streak and head and shoulders above everyone then you get beat down into obscurity. UFC has tons f guys at 205 who were big draws at one time. Machida, Shogun, Forrest, Tito, Rampage, Evans, etc. Now non of them are selling very well and the new torch barer hasnt caught on. How can the UFC have all fo them drawing at the same time? As soon as another potential star shows a beam of credibility he is thrust into a fight with the champ and one of them is stamped out. Fighters dont get time to really build themselves. Fights happen to soon in MMA, not just the UFC. Thats why the fight everyone wants to see is always the fight that cant happen. Like Chuck vs Wandy or Randy vs Fedor, etc. When fighters are in the same promotion the fights happen before there is really any anticipation for them. I hate to say it but i think the UFC needs to find a gimmick that would prevent the best guys from fighting right away and maybe allow some easy fights for the stars without always having to fight the next guy in line. Maybe seperate the fighters into 2 divisions and they dont meet until the end of each year. Or maybe create schedules at the start of each year for all the fighters.

    This is in a way what Pride did. I think they went over board with it. They didnt always put on even match ups so multiple people could rise to the top. But they rode put the same fighters for a decade. The UFC would just need to do it for a few fights. Because unlike Pride they bring in and create new talent very well. So the UFC could still be the proving ground to settle where the best fighters in the world are without creating the bubble of out dated talent liek Pride had and also avoid the low points of no meaningful fights and stars.

    The only fights i am looking forward to right now are Silva/Sonnen, GSP/Silva, Overeem vs Top UFC HW. All of them have something that has prevented them from Chael suspension to being in SF to being in a different weight class. That has lead to anticipation. The UFC needs to recreate this by designed and not rely on luck to do it once every 5 years.

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