Dana White to Address Oxford Union Society

August 31, 2010

The Associated Press is reporting that UFC President Dana White will address the Oxford Union Society Debate Club this October while in London, England to promote UFC 120.

Malcolm X has spoken there. So have Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.

 

And now Dana White will take the podium.

 

The UFC president will join a star-studded list when he addresses the famed Oxford Union Society on Oct. 13.

 

The 187-year-old society has been known for its ties to the upper tiers of politics, and past speakers include Sir Winston Churchill, Robert Kennedy and Yasser Arafat. The late Benazir Bhutto was once club president when she was a student, long before she was prime minister of Pakistan.

 

But sports figures have also won invitations. Recent speakers include soccer’s Diego Maradona, cricket’s Graham Gooch and Geoffrey Boycott, rower Steve Redgrave and boxer Chris Eubank.

Payout Perspective:

Dana White has become quite the highly sought-after speaking commodity as of late. In May, White was invited to attend the prestigious Microsoft CEO Summit and rub shoulders with the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and nearly 200 of the most important business leaders in the world. Oxford will now present an opportunity for White to address some of the world’s future business leaders.

The passion and energy with which White speaks may have won over the Summit crowd, but I’ll caution the same approach may not work at Oxford. The debate club will not go easy on White, and I fear he’ll need more than his standard clichés — e.g., the NASCAR analogy or “we run to, not from, regulation” — to survive the encounter.

Best of luck to him!

UFC: Mark Fischer to Head UFC Asia

August 29, 2010

Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta announced at the UFC 118 post-fight press conference that Mark Fischer has been hired as Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of UFC Asia.

A sports industry veteran, Fischer has spent the past 20 years working in Asia. Most recently, in 2009, he founded Sports & Entertainment Asia Ltd (SEA), which provides strategic marketing and representation services to sports properties seeking opportunities in China and other Asian markets. Prior to establishing SEA, Fischer worked for 12 years at the National Basketball Association (NBA), where he served as Senior Vice President and Managing Director of NBA Asia and was responsible for the development of the NBA’s businesses and operations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

 

From 2003 to 2008, Fischer led the NBA’s explosive growth in China, overseeing the expansion of the league’s branding and basketball development initiatives in China. During this period, Fischer built NBA China’s on-ground operations in Beijing and Shanghai and cultivated more than 20 marketing partnerships with leading multinational and domestic brands. He spearheaded a full range of on-ground events such as the NBA China Games and other integrated media and marketing initiatives as well as established the NBA’s groundbreaking partnership with the Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena. These achievements, in combination with his pivotal role in a $253 million investment road show, led to the establishment of NBA China in late 2007 as a separate corporate entity valued at more than $2 billion.

 

Fischer joined the NBA and established NBA Taiwan, Ltd. in 1997 before being promoted to Senior Director of Marketing Partnerships and Events for NBA Asia, Ltd., a regional position headquartered in Hong Kong, in 1999.

 

Before his position with the NBA, Fischer worked as Vice President of Richina Media Holdings Ltd. in Beijing, where he established an advertising and sports marketing agency and launched Chinese editions of several foreign content publications.

Payout Perspective:

The UFC continues to gobble up as much talent outside the Octagon as it does inside the Octagon. Last year, the UFC tapped Digital Royalty’s Amy Martin as lead consultant for the company’s social media strategy. In May, the organization added former CFL commissioner and Adidas executive Tom Wright to spearhead its Canadian effort. Now, Fischer and his wealth of Chinese experience have been added to the fold.

There are only so many hours in a day. Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta can’t be everywhere and do everything for the UFC. Perhaps more importantly, Dana and Lorenzo cannot hope to understand the many nuances and complexities of every international market they’re seeking to enter. That’s why these moves are so important.

Kudos to White, Fertitta, and the UFC for having the wisdom to find and hire local market experts. Fischer may or may not know the MMA game, but I’m sure he’ll learn just as Tom Wright has.

CMA Proposes Ban on MMA Prizefighting

August 25, 2010

The Canadian Press is reporting that the Canadian Medical Association is calling for a ban on mixed martial arts prizefighting in Canada.

Delegates at the CMA’s annual meeting voted Wednesday to have the doctors group seek a government ban on the sport.

 

The vote came after often contentious debate among 250 doctors at the meeting in Niagara Falls, Ont.

 

Those in favour of trying to deliver a knock-out punch to MMA say the sport puts fighters at risk of severe head trauma and other injuries that could have lifelong effects.

 

They argue that unlike sports like hockey and skiing, the intent of mixed martial arts is to incapacitate one’s opponent.

Payout Perspective:

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is the national body which represents doctors across all of Canada’s provinces and territories, including the British Columbia Medical Association. The CMA has also been calling for a ban on boxing since 2001.

This news isn’t something to worry about immediately. The CMA, alone, does not have the clout to tear down MMA, but it’s certainly something that opponents of the sport will point to when evaluating the sport in the future (whilst, I can only assume, leaving out relevant empirical studies like those done at Johns Hopkins).

Perhaps, the most disappointing part of this news is that the CMA’s justification for banning the sport of MMA is likely to mirror that of the BCMA – a group of supremely educated individuals and many of whom that have admitted to not having seen a live event or thoroughly examined the health of MMA fighters in any meaningful, scientific manner.

Ontario to Legalize MMA

August 16, 2010

MMA is officially coming to Ontario! An announcement was made by Sophia Aggelonitis on an Ontario Government website Saturday, declaring that MMA events will be legalized and regulated in the Canadian province by early 2011.

Ontario is taking steps to allow professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) events in the province.

 

The province would adopt the same rules for professional MMA that are widely used across North America. This announcement paves the way for the first regulated professional MMA event to be held in Ontario in 2011.

 

As MMA has grown in popularity throughout the world, many cities have reaped the economic rewards of hosting events. A major MMA event in Ontario could attract up to 30,000 fans and generate up to $6 million in local economic activity — everything from hotel rooms to restaurants and other stores and services.

 

While MMA events provide an economic benefit, Ontario’s priority is the safety of the competitors. By regulating professional MMA, Ontario could enhance the safety of all participants with explicit safety and medical standards at licensed events.

Payout Perspective:

MMA in Ontario will drive education as over 1/4 of Canada’s population and nearly all of its major media will have access to sport right in their own backyard. The regulation of the sport in Ontario will also help to generate additional interest in the sport nationally – where it’s already more popular than in any other country – because of the fact that Toronto is the media and economic center of the country.

The Ontario website is quite conservative in its $6 million economic impact assessment. I suspect the UFC’s debut in Toronto will push at least $10-12 million towards the local economy (based on 40% of the 60,000 at Rogers Centre coming from out of town and spending $500 that weekend on hotels, food, drink and transportation).

—–

Rogers Sportsnet’s Joe Ferraro was the first to report some months ago that the UFC booked a couple March dates at the Rogers Centre (formerly the Skydome) in Toronto. It seems as though the UFC and Marc Ratner may have known this was a certainty all along.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: MMA could not have accomplished what it has without the efforts of men like Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and Marc Ratner. These are the guys spending the money and devoting the tireless effort in order to pave the way for this sport to break out. The MMA community in Ontario also deserves some credit for its relentless support in the province; its rallies, expos, and educational protests were requisite pieces of the puzzle that helped to convince the government that local support did exist for the sport – that the fat cats from Vegas weren’t just coming in to take advantage of Canada’s biggest market and then leave.

SBJ Profiles UFC’s Tom Wright

July 26, 2010

This week’s Sports Business Journal uses its industry spotlight feature to profile the UFC’s new Director of Canadian Operations, Tom Wright.

In trying to secure regulation and sanctioning in Canada, is there an order of provinces or some provinces that are top priority?
No. 1 would be Ontario, where Toronto is located. We are working on that process right now. After that, there is a federal process that we are going through which is tied to Bill 83 of the Criminal Code and trying to get that changed so that it is legal in all 10 provinces without having to have provincial sanction that would follow.

Payout Perspective:

The fact that SBJ is profiling Tom Wright speaks volumes about his standing in the sports industry. He’s got a wealth of experience and is well-respected throughout Canada and the US. This should bode well for the UFC moving forward.

The only question I have regarding Wright is whether he knows the sport. This is something that really wasn’t broached at the press conference in May, but important nonetheless. If Wright is to be the man educating decision makers, he’ll need to know the sport inside and out (the sport, the fans, and the business).

I’d assume he’s got a pretty good handle on things by now; to my knowledge he’s been to quite a few events dating back to last year. But whatever he doesn’t have, he’ll have to pick up pretty quickly.

European Ultimate Fight Nights

July 22, 2010

ESPN UK recently sat down with the UFC’s Managing Director in the UK, Marshall Zelaznik, and discussed his plans for the start of a European “Fight Night” series.

“We’re working towards bringing together a series of UK and European Fight Nights. My hope is that, come October, we’ll be able to put some real heat on this. Talks are underway,” he told ESPN.co.uk.

 

“My hope is that it will provide four to six guaranteed UFC events in the UK next year. We’re hoping to hold one more European event [in addition to UFC 120] before the end of the year, and then we’ll get these extra nights planned for next year.

 

“We’d like to come to Liverpool, Scotland, Newcastle, Birmingham, these places provide 10,000-seaters which will be great for Fight Nights.”

Payout Perspective:

I like the idea of local fights for a number of reasons:

1. Talent development
2. Market development and education
3. Television/content fodder

These events don’t have to be broadcast live. In fact, the model the UFC is projecting for itself in the future necessitates that some events will have to be taped for later broadcast. Not only will it be difficult to broadcast everything live (or even broadcast entire events, period), but it’s also likely the talent level for a great many of these European “Fight Night” events will not be able to match the quality that people have come to expect from the UFC. The UFC will likely have to pull a great majority of the fighters from Europe (hence the talent development part of the equation), because it wouldn’t make sense to fly over a bunch of the UFC’s regulars from North American fighters unless it’s just a couple to headline the show.

In this case, the UFC can just aggregate the best fights and highlights to produce weekly segments for television viewers around the world; something incredibly useful for providing additional quick and relevant content for the UFC’s growth markets.

Then again, this is perhaps a couple years down the road. Zelaznik did not elaborate, but the UFC may just be switching the 4-6 UFN shows it does in North America to the UK market in 2011. In that case, it may very well use a host of UFC regulars and broadcast the same day in North America.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops. The way the UFC handles these events will give us a glimpse of how it may carry out part of its international expansion. Moreover, I suspect that these events will also help the UFC to stress test its current capabilities and experiment a little bit.

UFC’s Zelaznik on International Business

July 20, 2010

Ben Fowlkes of MMA Fighting has posted an interesting interview with the UFC’s Managing Director in the U.K., Marshall Zelaznik, that broaches a variety of subjects including the UFC’s latest absence from the U.K. market.

The U.K. market seemed like a big deal to the UFC when it first began expanding internationally, but so far in 2010 you’ve been to places like Australia and Abu Dhabi, but no U.K. shows. Do you worry that the U.K. fans will feel like they’ve been ignored as the UFC focuses on the rest of the world?

I think that if anyone has that impression, when you look objectively at how we haven’t been here in over a year, you can understand how someone might feel that way. But no one is ignoring the U.K. It’s just an effect of trying to be everywhere at one time. And just the way schedules work out, we probably would have been back in the U.K. earlier, but the TV dates we commit to and how we start working out our calendars, with the lack of availability of venues in the U.K., it just worked out this way.

We would have liked to have been in the U.K. before the summer, but it just didn’t work out with the schedules and the availability. But the offices here in the U.K., there are ten of us who live and breathe the U.K. and we’re always focused on it, so if people hear that they should know that no one is thinking of them as second-class citizens.

Payout Perspective:

It remains to be seen exactly what UFC 120 is going to look like, but it appears as though the UFC will rely on a bevy of British fighters to anchor yet another UK card without a title fight. The UK has not hosted a title bout since January 2008 when BJ Penn defeated Joe Stevenson at UFC 80.

The UFC cannot afford to bring a title fight to the UK every time it visits, but it must be careful not to treat the market as an after-thought. The company has devoted a lot of time and money into developing the UK and it must continue to serve the fan base with appealing fights with beyond the likes of British fighters like Bisping and Hardy or UFC legends like Matt Hughes and Randy Couture.

I tend to sympathize with Zelaznik and the UFC in regards to scheduling and timing, because if a few fights go the other way, they’re probably bringing two title fights to the UK in 2010. Just think about what could have happened had Bisping won at UFC 100, Hardy won at UFC 111, or the UFC had not suffered a host of injuries near the end of 2009 that put pressure on the company to re-establish some momentum in North America in 2010.

Yet, I also tend to think this entire situation exemplifies why rapid expansion is so difficult: the UFC has a limited number of resources and can’t possibly give each market the attention it deserves. The fans in the UK want a title fight, but so do the fans in Canada, Germany, Australia, and every other place the UFC visits.

I understand the allure of big markets like China and India, but the UFC can only move so quickly. It would be foolhardy to expect otherwise.

FEG Announces Partnership with PUJI Capital

July 19, 2010

Daniel Herbertson of MMA Fighting is reporting that FEG has reached an agreement with Chinese investment bank PUJI Capital that plans for PUJI to raise nearly $230 million in funds for the beleaguered organization’s newest international expansion plans.

Tanikawa stated that changes should start from 2011 and that Japanese events will continue with K-1 on Fuji TV and DREAM and K-1 MAX on TBS. PUJI will not be involved with the day to day operations regarding the actual promotions but will instead be in charge of fund raising and leading the global expansion and have forecast that they will gather 20 billion yen ($230 million).

Payout Perspective:

This is not an announcement of an immediate capital injection; FEG has not yet secured the $230 million in funding. PUJI Capital is forecasting that it will be able to raise $230 million for FEG, but that is anything but a foregone conclusion.

Normally, you don’t make an announcement like this unless you’re sure you can get the money, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this announcement is more of a PR stunt than anything else. The news has been well-received by the entire MMA community – many of whom long for the “glory” days of Pride and more competition in a landscape dominated by the UFC – and FEG is definitely looking to generate some renewed interest in its fight brands to help it raise new money.

However, FEG has yet to prove that it can manage its assets with any sort of fiscal responsibility. I’m skeptical that PUJI can raise $230 million in the first place, but further question the notion that more money, and an ambitious international expansion plan, is going to solve FEG’s current problems.

If FEG does manage to raise significant funds, it should focus on its home market, first: establishing a strong foundation in Japan with a solid fan base and predictable revenue streams. Yet, rebuilding Japanese MMA is also a tall order. Many believe that much of the success MMA has had in the country is linked to professional wrestling (cross-over and freak show fights were the real draws on many nights); with pro wrestling on the decline, it may be difficult to bring MMA back to where it once was.

If, and only if, FEG can establish a strong fan base, with a solid fight product and firm financial footing, can it look to expand beyond Japan and into other markets. The Asian-Pacific is the most logical destination (Korea, China, Australia); likewise, South America (Brazil) remains relatively untapped. But I’m not sure how much success they, or anyone else, will have in Africa at this point.

This is definitely something to keep an eye on. The MMA fan in me wants to get excited, but FEG and Dream/K-1 still have a long way to go.

Hispanic Interest in MMA Growing

July 14, 2010

Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer talks about the dim prospect of the Lesnar-Velasquez title fight happening in Mexico (now scheduled for October in Anaheim, CA), but mentions the UFC’s exploding popularity in the country.

White spoke of wanting to do a show in Mexico City, but didn’t know if the timing would work out for this fight. With no date on the horizon, it’s unlikely. UFC has exploded in popularity in Mexico over the past year, as the top fighters are now well known in that country when 13 months ago none but Lesnar, through his pro wrestling stardom, had any real name value. It remains well behind boxing and pro wrestling in popularity, that have been staples in that culture for decades. But because boxing and pro wrestling are so popular, it would appear to be a market that would take to UFC.

Payout Perspective:

I’d really be interested to see where Meltzer is getting his numbers from, but I’m inclined to believe him. I’ve run some stats through Simmons Research and the UFC’s popularity amongst American Hispanics is exploding.

  • The total number of Hispanic people interested in the UFC is up 50% since 2007, which is the largest increase of any professional sport in North America (including Wrestling).
  • Hispanics now make up roughly 15% of the UFC fan base in the US (up from 11% in 2007). Only the WWE has a greater proportion of Hispanic support.
  • The number of avid Hispanic UFC fans has increased by over 110% since 2007, which is again the largest increase of any professional sport in North America. The WWE enjoyed the next greatest increase (roughly 85%).
  • Not surprisingly, Hispanics now make up roughly 25% of the UFC’s avid fan base in the US (a number up from 14% in 2007).
  • Hispanic people are now 10% more likely to be a fan of the UFC than the average person, which is a sizable shift from just a few years ago when members of the group were 13% less likely to be a fan than the average member of the population.
  • Furthermore, Hispanic males aged 18-34 are 222% more like to be an avid fan of the UFC than a member of the average population, which is by far higher than any professional sports league (again with the exception of the WWE that sits in second).

It should be noted that Hispanic interest in sports as a whole is increasing. However, these numbers show a significant trend in growth that not only match the UFC’s general growth but exceed it.

Note: I’m working on a feature that details the growth of the UFC demographic over the last 3-4 years via Simmons Research. Hopefully I can share that with everyone in the next few weeks. Much of what I’ve always hypothesized is evident in the numbers (such as growth in the older demographics), but they do appear to contradict Dana White’s statements that the UFC demo is nearly 44% female. More to come!

UFC Opening China Office “Immediately”

July 6, 2010

Damon Martin of MMAWeekly reports that the UFC recently hired the individual that will run the UFC’s office in China, which the organization expects to open in the very near future.

Just weeks after the UFC opened an office in Canada – with former CFL commissioner Tom Wright leading the charge – the company hired a leader for a new office in China, which should open in the next few weeks.

 

“I’ll make that announcement soon. We just hired somebody today, literally today,” White said on Saturday night.

 

The office will be on mainland China, but no other details were revealed.

 

The plan came together pretty quickly though according to White, and they plan on being aggressive expanding into the Chinese market.

 

“We’re working on China right now. We’re opening an office there immediately,” he stated. “We’re moving fast in China.”

Payout Perspective:

The UFC had previously announced an office in China was in the works, but I’m not sure anyone thought it would come this quickly. It’s good news.

I find myself torn between two ideas: 1.) the UFC continuing to build its domestic market, and 2.) the UFC expanding internationally. I tend to think there’s still a lot of room for growth in both the US and Canada. The two biggest regional markets in those countries, New York and Ontario, still haven’t regulated the sport, and MMA as a whole still hasn’t fully caught on the way it could. While there’s an equal, or arguably even greater potential for MMA in some international markets, I also see them as risky propositions. People are often quick to cite several of the cliches involving the tremendous growth and potential of BRIC nations, but rarely do they take the time to understand some of the downside.

Now, certainly, there’s no rule that states a company has to expand one market at a time or that domestic and foreign expansion cannot happen simultaneously. But I do worry that an organization that’s already been stretched too thin on the human capital side, might also become stretched too then from a financial capital perspective. If there’s a question of where the bulk of a very finite set of resources should be focused in order to grow the UFC, I think it should and will be invested in North America.

What does that mean exactly? The new UFC office in China is a great step forward, but I wouldn’t expect to see an event in China any time soon. It’s going to take time and money to build the Chinese market into a viable location for events .

The UFC first needs to educate an ultra-conservative Chinese public about the sport of MMA, which means it’s likely to begin its Chinese market expansion by enhancing its existing distribution channels for UFC content within the country. Next, I’d expect the UFC to begin working on the merchandise side to supplement whatever content it can put on television (or the internet, like Sohu.com).

Meanwhile, I suspect that the UFC will try to leverage its partnership with Flash Entertainment in order to begin building the relationsips within the Chinese political system that will be necessary for further (or accelerated) movement into the market.

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