The marketing of Liz Carmouche
February 22, 2013
UFC 157 will go down as a historical night for the company regardless of the PPV buys. For the first time the UFC has put its faith in women behind Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche. While we all know about Rousey, Carmouche is a compelling story that complements the company’s first foray into women’s MMA.
The UFC is making a calculated risk by reaching beyond its normal demographics of young males in order to grab some mainstream appeal. Dana White has made a 180 degree reversal from his original stance that women would never fight in the UFC. Rousey was the perfect fighter to be the first woman signed to a UFC contract. Under the radar from the Rousey media storm is the fact that Liz Carmouche is also a pioneer in the sport. Not only is Carmouche participating in the first women’s fight in the UFC, she is openly gay.
The UFC marketed Carmouche’s sexual orientation smartly. It has promoted the accomplishment while not exploiting it. The UFC Primetimes have detailed Carmouche and coming out as gay even detailing how she met her girlfriend. In its pre-fight press, the UFC targeted gay media outlets to garner coverage for this demographic.
“I think the UFC is not shy about promoting her sexual orientation,” said Jim Buzinski of Outsports.com “Having an openly gay fighter is great in terms of showing that gays and lesbians are everywhere, even in the octagon.”
“The UFC’s inclusion of Liz is fantastic for two reasons,” stated Aaron McQuade of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), “First, it introduces their [UFC] fans to an openly gay fighter who’s considered one of the best in the world. Second, it shows their [UFC] fans that the world of mixed martial arts is open and accepting of all people, no matter who they are.“
The outreach to gay media should get the interest of some readers that may make an impulse buy of the PPV based on their support of a gay fighter. It might also help that it will be the first time women fight in the male-dominated UFC. With respect to Carmouche, she has been steadfast in being comfortable in who she is and what she stands for in the eyes of others. For those fans of Carmouche, she calls her followers “Lizbos,” an obvious play on words.
White’s opinionated stance on issues helped with the UFC marketing Carmouche. At the recent media scrum for the event, White respected Carmouche for coming out while stating he could care less about her sexual orientation. White’s comments imply that he doesn’t care whether Carmouche were gay, straight, bisexual or all of the above. When asked how would it be if a male fighter were to come out, White stated that the UFC would not treat them any different. I tend to agree with this comment although it would be clear that the UFC would likely market this individual (as it is doing with Carmouche) to the gay community.
White’s stance on the subject can be seen as a progressive look on societal changes. It can also be seen as taking advantage of a situation its been presented. His policy change on women’s MMA likely stems from the popularity of Rousey, Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce and a need to inject some life into its flat PPV business.
Carmouche’s background is relevant because its rare in sports that an athlete comes out. We need only look to the NFL to see that even in the most popular sport in the United States, its players may not embrace an openly gay athlete. Earlier this month, San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver made anti-gay comments during the week preceding the Super Bowl. Interesting for Culliver when he plays for a team that actively markets toward the gay community.
For the UFC’s part, there has not been a backlash about Carmouche or homosexuals in the lead up to the fight this Saturday. Of course, it’s likely that opponents of homosexual athletes participating in MMA have kept quiet to avoid the ire of White.
Despite the UFC marketing of Carmouche, the fact that Carmouche is openly gay seems to be an afterthought in this fight as Rousey has been the center of attention. Carmouche is articulate, a role model for women and is good for the sport of women’s MMA. The only problem is that her best fight was a loss to Marloes Coenen. Ironically, Dan Henderson main evented that night. Carmouche is the overwhelming underdog here. Still, with the shocking KO of King Mo in Bellator, this sport doesn’t have gimme fights.