Bleacher Report’s CEO opines UFC has tapped out from audience standpoint

June 23, 2017

Believe it or not, eSports and MMA are similar. They both are emerging sports compared to traditional sports, they have niche audiences, cater to younger male audiences and have issues with the burgeoning infrastructure.  At a sports tech conference held in Seattle on Thursday, Bleacher Report’s CEO Dave Finocchio saw parallels with the growth of eSports and MMA.  The comparison was not positive.

When posed with the question of the future of eSports, Finocchio stated that he had concerns with the mainstream breakthrough of eSports because of the lack of a star that is known to the mainstream.  “The shelf life of an average player is short and players burnout,” he noted.  He stated that a big part of the model for sports leagues is building the brand of the players and leveraging their celebrity.

He looked to the UFC in comparison citing the absence of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey leaving the company without any other known starts to build around. “[i]f you look at the UFC…it did kind of ‘tap out’ from an audience standpoint…they really built their brand on the backs of a few fighters.”  Although he recognized that the UFC is a successful business and one of the reasons it sold for so much is due to the celebrity of a few fighters.  His concern was that while the business can be monetized, it will be segmented to a small audience.

(You can see the comments around the 24:00 minute mark in the embedded video story on Geekwire)

Right now, eSports reporting on BR is limited to aggregation rather than original reporting.  Finocchio did indicate that BR is looking into doing more in that space.

The lack of mainstream stars is a concern since without these highlighted people, the casual fan does not have someone to look to in the sport.

Notably, Finocchio also stated that Fantasy Football peaked and is now out of date.  He noted that Fantasy is not catching on with the BR audience.  Daily Fantasy Sports is now the future.  He did note that “[i]deally, betting becomes legal.”

Payout Perspective:

There are many parallels between the sport of MMA and eSports that will look at in the future.  But, the statement from Finocchio is true.  This has happened in other sports.  The NBA had a problem with the lack of marketing of stars in the 1980s and the early 2000s pre-LeBron and Kevin Durant.  But, eSports and MMA are niche sports.  One might argue that it might take more of an effort to market and feature its players/fighters.  Demetrious Johnson complained of his lack of marketing to feature him and realistically only eSports followers know the names of the sport’s most popular gamers.  It will be interesting to see what/how each sport handles this issue and which sport will break through quicker.

DraftKings decides not to renew UFC sponsorship

February 16, 2016

The Legal Sports Reports states that fantasy sports operator Draft Kings has not renewed its sponsorship deal with the UFC.  It appears that the deal expired at the end of 2015 according to the report.

The sponsorship deal could be renewed at any time but a DraftKings representative gave a rather neutral statement about its relationship with the UFC.  Per the Legal Sports Report, “We [DraftKings] value our continued relationship with UFC and are very happy with what we were able to accomplish through our partnership – we have great enthusiasm for their offering and are committed to this sport.”

Maybe we are looking to deeply in the verb tense from the statement, but it does sound like either the parties are negotiating a new deal or are moving on from the UFC.

Recently, DraftKings announced the acquisition of MMA Fantasy Sports Operator Kountermove.

DraftKings signage was a mainstay during UFC events this past year.  According to the announcement this time last year it also included promotions outside the octagon.

Payout Perspective:

We shall see if the UFC and DraftKings continue their relationship in the future.  I would think that the purchase of KounterMove and the decision not to renew with the UFC are separate, but maybe not independent business moves by the company.  DraftKings is going through a huge legal and legislative battle across the country with respect to the legalization of daily fantasy sports.  One would think that niche sports like MMA would benefit the company.  Perhaps the sponsor deal was always for a year to gage the segment of MMA fans and the Kountermove purchase offered more flexibility in what it seeks to do.