McGregor, Joshua top social media adds for 2019

November 30, 2019

The Sports Business Journal unveiled its Combat Sports Special Issue this past week which included several interesting tidbits about the changing landscape of boxing.  One of the points it reported on was the importance of social media among combat sports athletes.

MVPIndex compiles the reach, engagement and conversation among 90,000 athletes.  This year, Conor McGregor took over the top spot in MMA from Khabib Nurmogomedov while Anthony Joshua retained the top spot among boxers.

Notably, McGregor has the most followers as well as earning the most added followers from the November-November timeframe in which this was tracked.

After McGregor’s gain of 4,324,629, Khabib Nurmogomedov gained 3,760,387 earning him second on the list for 2019.  Nate Diaz’s return to the Octagon earned him an additional 2,362,301 for this year.  Diaz is followed by Rose Namajunas and Israel Adesanya respectively.

Anthony Joshua drew over 4.6 million more followers this year despite his upset loss this past June to Andy Ruiz.  He’s followed by young, up and coming star Ryan Garcia with over 2.7 million followers.  Canelo Alvarez, Joseph Parker and Manny Pacquiao followed Garcia.

Payout Perspective:

I’m sure you are asking why does this matter.  Certainly, none of the followers or engagements (i.e., likes, favorites) are verified as actual followers.  It could be one’s social media team for all we know.  But the data compiled is a sign of the times.  In looking at social media, you are looking how much of an “influencer” you are for your industry or demographic.  One might think of this as the Kardashian effect in which a huge following (no matter what you do), could be monetized into something.  For personal brands, the number of social media followers along the multiple platforms such as twitter, Instagram and YouTube would be appealing to advertisers looking to have a single tweet from an influencer about a product or service could be much more revealing (depending on engagement, likes, responses) than a static ad.  For folks like McGregor and Joshua, its a great way to monetize your brand.  McGregor has advertised his Proper Twelve Whiskey on his social media channels.

For MMA, McGregor’s legal troubles outside of MMA may have been the cause for so many followers.  Khabib’s philanthropic efforts in addition to his one fight in Abu Dhabi this year probably helped with his following.

While social media may be an objective way of viewing popularity and marketability of an athlete, its clear that companies are viewing this metric when basing decisions.

McGregor set to return to Octagon January 18th against Cerrone

November 29, 2019

Conor McGregor returns January 18th in Las Vegas to face Cowboy Donald Cerrone according to the UFC’s Dana White.  The fight marks the return of the polarizing McGregor since his loss to Khabib Nurmogomedov in October 2018.

ESPN’s Brett Okamoto confirmed the news:

McGregor has not won a fight since November 2016.  Cerrone comes off of a loss to Justin Gaethje this past September in Vancouver.  His prior lost via doctor stoppage by Tony Ferguson in June.  Cerrone did win this year against Al Iaquinta and Alexander Hernandez.

McGregor’s return will be questioned as he is still under investigation for two sexual assaults in Ireland.  The latest being reported by the New York Times in October 2019.  He also was the subject of an assault in a pub with a gentleman that refused a drink from McGregor.

Despite the issues, Sports Business Journal rates McGregor atop the MMA social media rankings.  One might interpret this as him having influence on many fans/non-fans. Over the past year (November 2018-2019), he’s gained over 4.3M followers adding to a following of almost 48M.  Khabib Nurmagomedov comes at a far second with just a little less than 9.5M followers and having gained over 3.7M this past year.

Payout Perspective:

The obvious question if you are a Justin Gaethje fan is how does Cerrone get the fight with Conor when he KO’d the Cowboy this past September.  Gaethje has been lobbying for Conor but the obvious answer is that Cerrone is the less dangerous fight for McGregor who is in dire need of a win upon his return in 2020.  McGregor needs the UFC at this point as it appears that his personal life is embroiled in legal controversy and he needs to return to focusing on MMA before he spirals more out of control.  Regardless, the return will be hard as he’ll have to have a solid public relations plan in place as questions remain concerning his sexual assault allegations which he has denied.

Ferguson TM application, Champ Sh*t Only, preliminary denied but he gets another chance

November 26, 2019

According to reports from multiple MMA media outlets, it looks like Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmogomedov will once again try to fight one another barring injury in April in Brooklyn, New York.  Ferguson has been branding his tweets with a Champ Shit Only TM for which he’s applied for the mark but has yet to obtain.  Currently, the USPTO has denied its use as the examiner believes it should not be registered.

According to an Office Action issued on November 15, 2019, the attorney examiner noted that the proposed mark, Champ Shit Only, has failed to function as a service mark for purposes of registration as a trademark.  The examiner notes that the specimen (below) does not “identify and distinguish applicant’s services.”  A specimen is used for trademark applications to show evidence on how a mark will be used.  For instance, if you have an apparel line named Nike, you would use as a specimen a picture of a t-shirt with a Nike symbol on it to reflect how the mark would be used (there are exceptions to this rule but we are giving generalities here).

Ferguson’s attorney stated the description of the mark, Champ Shit Only, would be used for the following:

Entertainment in the nature of competitions in the field of mixed martial arts; Entertainment services, namely, live, televised and movie appearances by a professional entertainer; Entertainment services, namely, providing a web site featuring photographic, video and prose presentations featuring mixed martial arts; Entertainment services in the nature of professional athletes competing in mixed martial arts; Entertainment services, namely, live appearances by a sports celebrity; Entertainment services, namely, televised appearances by a sports celebrity

The attorney examiner states in denying the mark application:

Here, the specimen shows that applied-for mark in a tweet above a photo of a fighter. The applied-for mark, as shown on the specimen, does not function as a service mark because purchasers are likely to perceive the mark merely as a caption for the photo, rather than identifying the source of entertainment services in the field of mixed martial arts. It is unclear from the services whether applicant is offering any services in connection with the mark CHAMP SHIT ONLY. Moreover. The source of the tweet the applicant, Tony Ferguson, which suggests that the source of any of the offered services is “Tony Ferguson,” not CHAMP SHIT ONLY. Accordingly, the mark, as used in the specimen, fails to function as a source indicator for the identified services.

Notably, the application states that Ferguson has been using the mark since May 10, 2019, which is the date of the picture.

However, on November 19th, Ferguson’s attorney changed the designation from 1(a) to 1(b).  Essentially, what that means is that the application has changed from currently using the mark to an intention to use the mark.  The latter means that the mark has yet to be used although it is the applicant’s intent to use in the near future.

What is significant in this change is that it allows time for Ferguson to use the mark as it is described.  He does have to submit evidence of use.  Alternatively, he could also submit another specimen.

Payout Perspective:

Interesting enough, what not is identified, is the sale of merchandise or apparel which would make sense with Ferguson’s “catch phrase.”  As for the use in the “entertainment” sense as described, I’m not sure if there’s a plan to show how Ferguson’s saying will be utilized to show his entertainment services.  Certainly, there could be a cryptic reason for the use of Champ Shit Only for entertainment services, but that would have to be described for an attorney examiner at the USPTO to understand.

To conclude, it’s entirely possible that Ferguson ends up with the trademark, but he’d have to show his use of the mark for the reason identified.  But, at this point, the original application was preliminary denied.  So, the mark is not for the Champ…yet.

UFC announces changes to UFC Anti-Doping Policy

November 26, 2019

On Monday, the UFC announced changes to its UFC Anti-Doping Policy as it looks to address issues with contaminated samples.  In addition, it announced Thorne as a certified supplement maker.

The new policy also advises that athletes use only supplements that have been certified by USADA’s approved list of five different certification agencies.  If an athlete tests positive and its proved that the offending substance came from one of the certified supplements, no sanctions will be given to the athlete.

Now, instances of banned substances being found in contaminated supplements will be treated as “atypical” provided the levels sit below the stated thresholds on the UFC prohibited list.  It also validates IV infusions/injections over 100 mL which are now only permitted if they are determined to be medically justified and within the standard of care by a licensed physician and administered by a licensed medical professional.

Also of note, they’ve added a rule in which USADA, in its sole discretion, may elect not to impose an “enhanced sanction” for an athlete that has multiple violations.  The pertinent language is that “USADA’s sole and unreviewable discretion it was unlikely that one or more of the Athlete’s violations was intentional and/or based upon the Athlete’s provision of significant Substantial Assistance or Fulle and Complete Cooperation as determined by USADA.”  The section is screengrabbed below:

Notably, this rule seems to help those like Jon Jones that have had multiple violations in which those violators, under the prior UFC Anti-Doping Policy would have had an immediate suspension (according to the rules) of 2-4 years (dependent on specified or non-specified substance) based upon a second violation.  Obviously, in the past, the finders of fact have mitigated suspensions based on a number of factors but the standard was doubled for at least a second violation.

There may also be a Brock Lesnar rule as now athletes must disclose if they have used the fertility drug, clomiphene, prior to signing a contract with the UFC.  The drug is sometimes used for “off label” purposes as a male fertility drug or for use post-cycle following anabolic steroid use.  It also addresses issues with low testosterone.

The new policy adjustments also spell out that athletes cannot return to compete or start to compete with the UFC until they have been available to testing for 6 months or 1 year after using clomiphene.

Payout Perspective:

The good news is that the updated policy changes seem to take into account issues it has had with its previous iteration of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy.  Most importantly, it addresses the issues with contaminated supplements and recognizes the issues that occur.  Of course, one would have thought there would have been this foresight originally.  Yet, with the Nate Diaz and Jon Jones issues, the UFC needed to recalibrate its policy and balance it with atypical findings.

The only problem is that time is still needed from the time an adverse finding is discovered to when a finding can be made by USADA.  There does not seem to be a policy regarding imminent or emergent circumstances where an athlete has a fight upcoming.

Thorne Research, Inc. is a dietary supplement maker out of Sandpoint, Idaho.  It’s been around since 1984 but is relatively small with only 54 employees.  According to Crunchbase, their estimated revenue range is between $10M-$50M.  In comparison, its competitors in its industry have estimated revenues of $105.3M (Xymogen)and $345M (Metagenics) respectively. It has gone through just one venture funding round with Japanese company Mitsui & Co. as its sole investor.  The new agreement with the UFC, should boost the profile of the company (you may recall it sponsored UFC 244’s Embedded series and was talked about during the lead up to Diaz-Masvidal).

One would hope that the changes to the policy continue to evolve in order to correct issues related to tainting while effectively policing the athletes for performance enhancing drugs.

Jones to defend UFC Light Heavyweight title against Reyes in Houston

November 22, 2019

Jon Jones will defend his UFC Light Heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes on February 8th in Houston, Texas. The announcement made by Dana White to ESPN reflects the promotion’s choice of Reyes over Corey Anderson.

Reyes earned a first-round KO over Chris Weidman this past October at UFC on ESPN 6. Anderson had a defining victory with a KO over Johnny Walker this past November at UFC 244.

If you follow Jones on social media, you could infer that he didn’t think Anderson was a worthy challenger and Reyes was the tougher challenge.

Payout Perspective:

This should be the main event of a yet-to-be unannounced card in Houston. Jones last fight this past July was lackluster as he defeated Thiago Santos by unanimous decision. Despite not dominating, Jones still is the king of his division and is arguably still the biggest draw still fighting in the UFC. The undefeated Reyes (12-0) will try to upset Jones and it will take a best effort to dethrone the 25-1 Jones.

Floyd announces return, could it be with Zuffa Boxing?

November 22, 2019

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. announced on social media that he would be coming out of retirement.  The announcement coincided with photos of himself and Dana White sitting courtside at a Los Angeles Clippers game.

Perhaps the two just trolling the combat sports industry.  Or, Floyd may be giving Zuffa Boxing a boost with lending his name and brand to an upstart boxing company Dana White promised fans.

News came out this summer that Zuffa Boxing made a hire to run that side of the business.  White also indicated that Zuffa Boxing would be up and running in October.  However, that has not happened.

Payout Perspective:

Could we really be seeing Floyd Mayweather return to the ring under the Zuffa Boxing banner?  The two worked together on the Mayweather-McGregor fight and it would not be out of the question that White would want Floyd to work with the company in some manner.  But its hard to believe that Floyd would box competitively again.  We should see in 2020.

Three PFL fighters in playoffs fail NAC drug tests

November 21, 2019

ESPN reports that Glaico Franca, Luis Rafael Laurentino and Ramsey Nijem failed drug tests and could be disciplined by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.  All 3 participated in the PFL playoffs.

Franca and Laurentino tested positive for the banned steroid stnozolol and Nijem tested positive for marijuana.  The fighters had their temporary suspensions extended by the NSAC at its monthly meeting and are expected to have full disciplinary hearings December 18th.

Fortunately for the organization, none of the athletes flagged advanced to the New Year’s Eve Finale for the promotion in New York.

Franca and Laurentino believe that supplements that they took may have been contaminated leading to the drug test failure.  Franca reached the PFL welterweight semifinals on October 11th in Las Vegas before losing to David Michaud.  Laurentino lost in the PFL featherweight quarterfinals to Jeremy Kennedy on October 17 and Nijem lost to Natan Schulte in the PFL lightweight quarterfinals.

Payout Perspective:

This is one of the potential issues with a tournament format for the PFL – the potential of a fighter failing a drug test.  Regardless of whether it’s the fighter’s fault or a tainted supplement as Franca and Laurentino claim, the investigation regarding the testing failure would detour the tournament.  Fortunately, these three would not have impacted the final for $1 million on December 31st.

Report: Ad buyers frustrated with lack of data from UFC on ESPN+, DAZN programming

November 19, 2019

According to a report from Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand advertisers are growing weary of the unknown viewership numbers that are watching online content such as the UFC on ESPN+.  The concern may lead to a demand from advertisers to provide solid numbers for specific program for direct-to-consumer platforms.

At a National Association of Broadcasters panel in New York Adam Schwartz, Horizon Media’s senior vice president and director of sports media noted that his company has pushed for specific numbers as to how many consumers are watching specific programming.  Notably Schwartz buys advertising packages for the likes of Geico, Sprint, Capital One, Burger King and Corona.

He noted that the UFC on ESPN + has been frustrating to decipher because rather than provide advertisers with actual viewership numbers, ESPN+ provides an overall number of subscribers.  According to the SBJ report from Schwartz’ appearance on the panel, there is a UFC sponsor (name not revealed) that entered into a deal with the company prior to the ESPN+ contract and was promised a specific number of viewers.

Additionally, DAZN has not provided concrete numbers for its MMA or Boxing events.  Schwartz cites these two as challenges for advertisers because they must make a monetary decision based on speculation.  Without concrete data, its hard to prove whether or not the advertising campaign was successful, influenced its target audience or was a bust.  Furthermore, it would be hard to convince your buyer of the bottom line if the specific program does not provide ratings that one might be able to assess.

Payout Perspective:

One of the questions that loomed when content moved to digital platforms was how would programming be tracked.  Television ratings are prevalent and are easy to access. Ad buyers are able to analyze the numbers of viewers watching and breaking down the demographics to determine how to target a specific audience.  As we have learned from this report, online content viewership of specific events is not released to even advertisers.  One might also believe this to be true of UFC PPV events.  While DAZN has noted it gained subscribers for big events, it does not disclose specifics.  Similarly, the UFC has not provided solid numbers unless it wants it to be known.  This may not be fair to the media.  But it would be frustrating for an ad buyer that cannot quantify its return on investment.

The panel did note that advertisers may seek to pay a premium for the specific numbers which might entice digital holders to provide them.  Of course, disclosing the information would make tracking the viewership patterns easier and the possibility that the media would get a hold of the information.

UFC Fight Night 164 attendance and bonuses

November 16, 2019

UFC Fight Night 164, San Paolo, took place on Saturday from Ginasio do Ibirapuera in Brazil.  Jan Blachowicz won a split decision in the main event over Ronaldo Souza.

The main event was nothing to re-watch online but a reported sellout of 10,344 fans came to watch the latest event promoted by the UFC.  There was no fight of the night bonuses although Performances of the Night went to Charles Oliveira, James Krause, Ricardo Ramos and Randy Brown.  Each drew $50,000 bonuses as announced by the UFC post-event.

Payout Perspective:

Not a UFC event that was really entertaining as much of the card seem to go along slowly. The Performance Bonus winners did have really great performances deserving of the extra money.

PFL finalist Pineda fails NAC drug test

November 14, 2019

MMA Junkie reports that PFL featherweight finalist Daniel Pineda has failed a Nevada Athletic Commission-administered-test.  The news could knock Pineda out of a chance for $1 million in the final against Lance Palmer on December 31st.

At this point, the NAC and the promotion have not made an official statement although Junkie reached out to Pineda’s manager who issued the following statement:

“Right now we’re in the process of researching what could have led to a positive test.  We plan on appealing the decision once all information is gathered.”

Pineda was an injury replacement in the PFL Playoffs for Damon Jackson.  Pineda won two fights in the same night to make the final which is set for December 31st at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Payout Perspective:

 It’s unlikely that Pineda will be given the Nate Diaz treatment when it comes to the adjudication of this drug test.  Hopefully, the NAC will be mindful that this could be a tainted supplement scenario although its likely too soon to speculate.  But, since we are, Pineda could be deprived of a chance to fight for $1 million although the test may prove to be a tainted supplement.  The PFL has yet to make a statement which likely means they are trying to work on possible alternatives to Pineda fighting and/or helping to clarify the test.

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