Sponsorship Spotlight: RYU

May 24, 2012

Welcome to another edition of Sponsorship Spotlight.  This time we are featuring MMA apparel company and UFC® sponsor RYU.  MMA Payout had the opportunity get in touch with RYU CEO Christopher Martens for a quick Q&A regarding its recent involvement as a UFC® sponsor.

You will likely see a lot of RYU this weekend during UFC 146 as RYU will have its largest presence to date on-site and during the PPV.

MP:  When was the company founded? How did you come up with the name?

RYU:   The company was founded in the fall of 2008 and we recently launched our debut line of premium men’s performance apparel in February 2012.

RYU is an acronym for Respect Your Universe, but it’s also a term that is the embodiment of the principles and philosophy held by the company.

MP:  Where are the headquarters? It appears that design and development is in Portland, whereas HQ is in Vegas. What’s the reason for the dual offices?

RYU:  We were incorporated in Las Vegas and we have the Sports Marketing piece of the brand located there, but Portland is one of the centers in the country – or even the world – for outdoor and athletic apparel, as well as footwear creation, so the resources for us to create innovative products are all located here in Portland.

MP: What influences does the company have from Nike?

RYU:  RYU has the influence of experience.

We have four executives who came from Nike, and our executive team as a whole comes from leadership positions at multiple major sports apparel brands.

MP:  How is the company structured?

RYU:  As typical of most consumer product companies, we are structured with a marketing arm, product creation arm and sales arm, as well as operations and finance, though a lot of our positions are virtual, contracting out elements that make sense.

MP:  What is your target demographic? What do you do to reach out to this demographic?

RYU:  Our target demographic is a person that athletics are important to their life on a daily basis, and we reach out to them in a variety of communication channels – digitally, through our partnership with the UFC®, Sports Marketing, or, on a grassroots level, through the RYU Ambassador Program.

MP:  When did you decide to be a UFC® sponsor? What was the process for sponsorship (i.e. did you have any input on where, when and how the RYU brand would be utilized during UFC® broadcasts?)

RYU:  Working with and sponsoring the UFC® has always been a part of our plan, as the brand was founded on insights from fighters to create great product.

We work in partnership with them to maximize the placement of the brand to best connect with our consumers.

MP:  How many UFC® athletes does RYU sponsor? Does RYU sponsor any other athletes?

RYU:  We actively sponsor UFC® welterweight Jon Fitch, and have had worked with several talented athletes in the UFC, such as TJ Dillashaw, John Hathaway, Mike Massenzio, Danny Castillo, Marcus LeVesseur and Alex Soto.

We’re also excited to be represented by Jamie Varner and Darren Elkins at UFC 146 on May 26th.

Outside of the UFC®, we actively sponsor 2011 Mr. Olympia Phil Heath, Boston Red Sox Outfielder Darnell McDonald, and endurance athlete Christian Isakson and have worked with Strikeforce fighter Josh Thomson, Bellator Fighting Championship Welterweight Champion Ben Askren and Bellator Middleweight Champion Hector Lombard, who recently signed with the UFC®.

MP:  How does RYU use Jon Fitch as an ambassador for the brand?

RYU:  Jon is an Ambassador on multiple levels. We utilize him for product feedback through his training, in social media, digital and ad campaigns, as well as at the grassroots gym level.

He wears and talks about the product with other fighters and with trainers.

MP:  How is RYU using social media to reach out to its target demographics? How does RYU measure social media success?

RYU:  It’s important to us to be able to interact with and get to know our consumers, so we have a very active presence on both Facebook (www.facebook.com/RYUapparel) and Twitter (@RYUapparel).

As far as measuring our social media success, at this point, we are building brand awareness and relationships with consumers within the mixed martial arts and athletic apparel communities and markets – so every time someone sends us a tweet about our product, or posts a photo in RYU product, that is a small victory and success for the brand.

MP:  What are the long-range goals for the company?

RYU:  Our long-range goals are to continue to bring innovative product to the marketplace, as well as to continually grow as a premium performance brand within the space of Mixed Martial Arts and beyond it into a global athletic brand.

MP:  We understand that the company is publicly traded. What are some of the challenges of having a publicly traded company? What do investors/shareholders think of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and the business plan for RYU?

RYU:  The cost. There are a lot of costs associated with being a publicly traded company, specifically as far as reporting and auditing. Also, aligning – making sure that the short term goals of all involved are in-line with the long term vision of the company.

We have a team of investors, shareholders and board members who are very supportive of both the sport and RYU’s goals.

A lot of the investors are either fans or participants in martial arts or mixed martial arts and they see the opportunity there and how that opportunity aligns with RYU’s long-term business plan.

Sponsorship Spotlight: Toyo Tires

June 2, 2011

MMA Payout had the opportunity to get in touch with Chief Operating Officer Marty Furman of Toyo Tires, USA Corp. He talks about its sponsorship with the UFC and Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.

MP: Where are your headquarters? When was Toyo Tires founded? How many employees?

Toyo: Toyo Tires started back in 1945, in Osaka, Japan.  In 1966, we were the first Japanese tire manufacturer to establish a subsidiary in the United States and we sold commercial truck tires out of Southern California. Now, 45 years later, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. offers a complete line of premium tires including ultra-high performance, luxury touring and eco-friendly tires for passenger cars and crossovers as well as highway, all-terrain and mud-terrain tires for light trucks and SUVs. We still sell commercial tires too.

We are headquartered in Cypress, California with more than 75 employees and our tires are sold across the country by independent tire dealers. Toyo Tires also has a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Bartow County, Georgia, which means many of our tires are made right here in the United States.

MP: What is your specialization/industry? What demographics are you hoping to target with the UFC sponsorship?

Toyo: Our tagline “Driven to Perform” echoes our focus on performance and quality, from our products to our customer service to our activities beyond tires.  It is an important message in our marketing this year.  Through sponsorships and activities like the UFC we want to reach people who are Driven to Perform in life – at work, at play, with their family and in their community. In fact, very soon Toyo will announce a national sponsorship with one of the leading health based research organizations that is really Driven to Perform by finding new cures and treatments for a disease that affects so many people around the world.  Watch for our announcement on Facebook and Twitter.  These people embrace brands that help them to be their best and when it comes to performance on the road it’s Toyo Tires. We feel it isn’t about being a certain age or being a man or a woman, it’s really a frame of mind and an attitude.  We believe the UFC fans are Driven to Perform.

MP: Why did Toyo Tires leave its sponsorship with the UFC in 2008?

Toyo: In early 2009, due to the difficult economic environment we had to reduce costs like most companies in the U.S..  However, we stayed connected to the UFC by supporting a few individual MMA fighters.

MP: What drove the decision to renew its sponsorship with the UFC in 2011? How long is this sponsorship agreement with the UFC?

Toyo: One of our goals in 2011 is to focus on sports, activities and people that we feel exemplify “Driven to Perform.”  UFC has never been far from the minds of our team so when we had the chance to revisit our sponsorships it was high on the priority list; after all, Driven to Perform could be on the wall of every training gym.  We had maintained a great relationship with the staff there so when we called and said we were ready to talk they listened. Here we are, back as Official Tire of the UFC for 2011.

MP: What are the terms of the sponsorship with the UFC?

Toyo: As Official Tire of the UFC, the Toyo Tires logo will be seen on the sides of The Octagon during six live UFC Pay-Per-View events.  In addition, the Toyo Tires logo is included on the canvas for select UFC® Fight Night events broadcast on VERSUS® and Spike TV®.

MP: How did Toyo Tires come to the decision of sponsoring Anthony Pettis? Did Pettis’ representation seek you out or did you seek out Pettis?

Toyo: We have had a long standing relationship with MMA Inc. and have worked with several of their fighters in the past including Urijah Faber and Mark Munoz. Talking with Mike Roberts we felt Anthony was the perfect fit for Toyo – he is a young star in the making who is Driven to Perform and he also happens to love cars.


MP: Do you see Toyo Tires sponsoring other UFC (or Strikeforce) fighters in the future?

Toyo: Definitely. In fact, you caught me on the right day because I am going to let MMAPayout.com in on an exclusive… we just completed a deal to sponsor UFC middleweight Mark Munoz. Munoz will wear Toyo Tires on his fighting shorts when he faces Damien Maia at UFC 131 in Vancouver.  He will also promote our brand through appearances and additional marketing efforts. We look forward to working with him again.

MP: Does Toyo Tires plan other forms of brand activation/promotion with the UFC or Anthony Pettis?

Toyo: Without giving too much away – Yes, we will be doing more with Anthony in the very near future. I encourage fans to keep an eye on the Toyo Tires Facebook page and Twitter account.

MP: You recently launched a social media initiative which includes a Facebook and Twitter page, can you tell us if it will use this to promote the UFC and/or Anthony Pettis?

Toyo: Absolutely! We are promoting all of our activities and partnerships through our Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s all about sharing experiences with our fans.  We are posting pictures from UFC weigh-ins, loading exclusive interviews with our athletes like off-road racer Robby Gordon and congratulating autocross racers who win on Toyos.

In fact, this Saturday we will be tweeting and posting pics from the Official Anthony Pettis After Party at the Palms Hotel and Casino. We are co-presenting it with our friends at FORM Athletics.

MMA fans can also download a cool wallpaper image of Anthony doing his famous kick from www.facebook.com/toyotires. It’s sized for computers and mobile phones.

But in addition to everything we are doing, we want the fans to share too! We want them to share their experiences with their Toyos, post pictures of their cars, talk about the UFC fights – really build a Toyo Tires community. (www.facebook.com/toyotires and www.twitter.com/toyotires)

MP: Has Toyo Tires been able to measure its sponsorship with the UFC so far to determine if it’s receiving a return on its investment? If so, how do you measure the return?

Toyo: The feedback from our dealers and from consumers has been overwhelmingly positive.  We really appreciate the many emails and tweets from fans thanking us for supporting the UFC!

Our dealers are excited that we are involved in a sport that is gaining more and more fans every month. For them, it means more potential customers are seeing the Toyo brand and awareness is growing.

Our employees are also excited. Of course our Sales team receives positive feedback from employees at the dealerships but many of our office employees have their own stories of being at a party, even the dentist, where when they mentioned they work for Toyo Tires people have said, “oh yeah, I’ve seen you on the UFC!” It’s a good feeling for them.

MP: It’s my understanding that Toyo Tires and Form Athletics are working together on promoting Anthony Pettis and Form Athletics is producing his walkout kit for his fight at The Ultimate Fighter Finale. Can you explain how the collaboration came about and how Toyo Tires will be displayed in the kit?

Toyo: We actually met FORM Athletics through MMA Inc. Since then, our marketing teams have collaborated on the fighter gear and the Go Time Twitter promotion which just wrapped up this week. One lucky fan won workout gear signed by Anthony along with a set of Toyo tires. That was our first promotion on Twitter and the response was awesome!

When Pettis walks out this weekend Toyo Tires will be prominently featured on his shorts.  Right now fans can also get an exclusive Pettis/FORM/Toyo Tires t-shirt through MMAWarehouse.com when they purchase $75 or more in FORM gear.

Sponsorship Spotlight: VXRSI

May 13, 2011

MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with the owners of clothing brand VXRSI. Dano Dejos (Founder and Creative Director) and Karlo Reyes (CEO and Partner) discuss the VXRSI brand and its vision.

MP: When was VXRSI founded? How did you come up with the name? Any concern that potential customers will not be able to remember the name?

Dano: We’ve (Dan/Karlo) been working within either streetwear or apparel & action sports over the last ten or so years, as far design and marketing, although the foundation for Vxrsi was laid down far earlier. I (Dan) initially began conceptualizing and developing the foundation for Vxrsi in 2006, not too long after graduating from the Art Institute of Seattle in 2005, but I was born into martial arts and grew up following MMA since I was a youth and started training formal MMA training in 2001. I was a natural designer and artist from the beginning and martial arts was pretty much my action sport, like skateboarding, BMX, or snowboarding was for others, so I wanted to bridge the two paths into one and Vxrsi was the outlet.

Karlo: For the name, originally we wanted to have something similar to Versus but with a twist to it. We came to a conclusion with VXRSI, pronounced (Ver-sai) which is the latin plural for Versus. We actually like the fact that the name gets people talking and wondering how to actually pronounce it. It sparks conversation and curiosity, which is always good.

MP: Where are your offices? How many employees?

Karlo: Our office and distribution center is Seattle but we have distributors internationally and team members nationally. Currently, there are about 8 core team members.

MP: What are some of the challenges of starting an MMA clothing company?

Dano: We know that Vxrsi has a place in sports apparel as a whole, as MMA definitely now has a place in the sports paradigm and is now beginning to enjoy a particular level of acceptance among the other more established sports. As apparel goes, we think people will respond to the fact that we offer an original and innovative take on combat sports/action sports inspired apparel, infusing art/creative/lifestyle elements into our design and fabrications, attention to quality and detail, as well as celebrating and staying true to the culture and sporting aspects of mma.

 Karlo: Since both Dan and I come from the apparel industry but are also involved in the mma and bjj community, the MMA clothing company actually came pretty naturally and was embraced by mma fans and stores quickly. The main challenge I would say is convincing mainstream stores that our “look” which is unconventional (much closer to an action sports or lifestyle brand) compared to the other mma lines, actually has a customer base. We will be showing at MAGIC, the largest apparel tradeshow in the US in August, next to brands like Stussy, O’Neil, Polo, Puma as well as mma brands like Tapout and Jaco,  so hopefully we can convince stores like Active Ride Shop, Pacsun and Nordstroms  that there is a lane for us.

MP: What is your vision for the brand? Describe the style?

Dano: Vxrsi was more of a natural inception over a reactionary one, regarding the state of MMA/fightwear I suppose. I wanted to build the brand focusing on a creative and artistic approach while still conscious of the sporting/athletic aesthetics of MMA and martial sports. I felt that there was a void within the MMA apparel marketplace, in which only a segment of MMA culture was being represented, wherein rockstar lifestyle and tattoo art has been reigning champ.

While we have nothing against that side of the sport and respect that angle as well, we think the sport and culture’s roots go much deeper and farther than it’s current station, with a rich history/tradition and a wealth of themes to draw off that are relevant to combat culture/sports and the influential cultures that really inspire sports and therefore us. We’re also very inspired by the modern artistic perception of sports and athletics, the intertwining of sports and culture, as well as it’s constantly evolving state. We feel that we have a particular responsibility to grow and evolve and diversify along with the sport and its audience, and continually develop the brand with new and innovative approaches.

Karlo: The vision for VXRSI is to establish ourselves as a bridge (brand) for the mainstream audience and hardcore MMA audience with intelligent and artistic design, marketing and branding strategies. We want to cater to a customer that appreciates the clean sport design aesthetics similar to that of a Nike or an Adidas but is also interested in lifestyle aspects like art and music. We believe our customers aren’t so one-dimensional: They may enjoy mma but they also appreciate culture and the arts.

MP: How have you publicized the brand?

Karlo: We have a very grass roots and DIY approach to marketing. This is from our streetwear background – learning that you can do more with less sometimes. We work with the blogs like Middle Easy, Fighter x Fashion and Lowkick – just to name a few. Also, we believe in creating a strong fan base first before putting any money into a big name or a big event. If not, you may get that initial curiosity but without the proper support base or “buzz” – that curiosity can easily fade…so we have booths at a lot of BJJ and MMA events. We love to see our customers face to face and its pretty cool seeing your brand on the people that are not only fans of the sport but participate in it.

MP: Do you sponsor any fighters? If so, what kind of sponsorship is it?

Karlo: We do but its mostly fighters that are up and coming (Aj Matthews, Jason High, etc) though we also get a lot of support from fighters that have been in the sport like Maurice Smith and Ivan Salaverry. We want to grow with the fighters and have an established relationship first before we do any sponsorship. We also sponsor and support many youth programs and younger bjj athletes.

Dano: We want to encompass and represent the sport as a whole. Fighters/competitors, fans, casual practitioners, and anyone who just enjoys and loves sports, martial/fight culture, and art. MMA and its culture are more about inclusion over exclusion, innovation and creativity. Martial arts and sports have spanned the world, and it’s constantly growing and changing, so we embrace that philosophy. 

MP: Describe VXRSI’s decision to partner with Middle Easy for t-shirts helping Japan? What has been the response by customers?

Karlo: We’ve worked on a collaboration t-shirt with Middle Easy before so the partnership came naturally. We both wanted to do something to help the Japan relief efforts so we discussed ways to involve the fans and creating a t-shirt where 100% of the profits would be the best bet. It was also way to raise awareness for Save The Children Foundation.

MP: What is your best-selling t-shirt?

Dano: The Unite Tee or the Rio Tee

MP: Describe how you come up with concepts for t-shirts?

Dano:  We draw from a variety of different sources that are relevant to the fight sports and the influential cultures that really inspire sports and therefore us. There’s thousands of years of art and philosophies throughout history to draw from like classical Greek sculptures, Japanese paintings and motifs, to modern art and contemporary design. We’re also heavily inspired by the modern artistic perception of sports and athletics, the intertwining of the culture associated with sports, as well as it’s constantly evolving state. To us, that’s a huge well to pull from as combat sports continue to grow, thrive, and change.

MP: Do you do any market research regarding what people like in a t-shirt/style?

Karlo: Honestly, our market research is having an open discussion with our customers, facebook fans and being at events and chatting with the practitioners and customers there. That’s the best type of market research anyone can have. Dano can probably explain more on his process for designing:

Dano: We’ve always been into fashion and sports apparel. It’s kind of hard to not be into those things if you subscribe to some level of pop culture, whether its sports, entertainment, art, or music, it just seems like a completely natural way to express yourself and represent what you’re into through a t-shirt. I’ve probably designed a thousand or so tee shirts and apparel pieces for action sports, music, street brands, and etc, so finally being able to do with MMA/sports/art in mind is so fulfilling because those are my passions and help define myself pretty much down to the core.

MP: Where are the bulk of your sales coming from? Direct online or Third party websites like MMA Warehouse?

Karlo: Its pretty mixed. Wholesale stores and sites like MMA Warehouse and Karmaloop have been great partners in expanding the brand but events like Grapplers Quest, UFC Expo and local tournaments have brought in great sales as well.

MP: What is the future of your clothing design? Where do you see it going?

Dano: Like the athletes and artists that inspire us,  we’re looking to grow and constantly up our game. New, innovative approaches to what we do and continually build with new, interesting product and consistent involvement within the sport, along with maintaining a level of integrity and sense of diligence to the culture are something we are very keen on, so expect some big things from us on the horizon.

The company web site is www.vxrsi.com.

Sponsorship Spotlight: Cagehero

March 3, 2011

MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with Mark Mastrandrea about his company Cagehero. Founded in 2010 along with Ian Parker, Cagehero t-shirt designs are not the usual MMA brand of skull and crossbones design.

MP: When was Cagehero established? How long have you been in business? Where are your offices?

CH: Ian Parker and myself, Mark Mastrandrea, founded Cagehero in the spring of 2010.  Cagehero is headquartered in New York City with members in California and Florida.

MP: Where did you get the concept? Inspiration? Are you comic book fans?

CH: Ian and I have been best friends since we were 3 years old.  Ian was a former amateur MMA fighter and comic book fan and I have previous experience with apparel and marketing.  When we came up with the name Cagehero, we conceptualized a brand that would mash together the MMA world and comic book world.

MP: Who does the designs? Who draws the characters, decides on the t-shirt design, etc?

CH: All the characters are conceptualized by myself and Ian.  The characters/designs are done by our in-house design team.

MP: Did you see a niche for your designs in MMA? Did you conduct any market research to see if people would want to purchase your shirts?

CH: In a space where most of the clothing is aesthetically based around skulls, bones, violence and cluttered design, we saw an opening.  We wanted to create a brand with clean designs and a certain level of innocence, a brand that any age could wear.  We wanted to not only stay in our own lane aesthetically, but also message wise. We inspire through our mantra “The Hero comes from within.”

Character driven shirts have been successful in an array of different markets and ages.  If you look at anything for the youth, like Dora the Explorer and Hello Kitty, all the way up to the older age with Anime and Marvel designs.  We’ve found many MMA fighters are big fans of comic books and superheroes as well.  What fighter wouldn’t want to represent a superhero?

MP: I understand that Cung Le was your first MMA sponsored fighter? Did you contact him, or did he contact you?

CH: When it was time to start putting together our Cagehero Roster, Ian reached out to Zinkin Entertainment.  After speaking with DeWayne Zinkin and Bob Cook, we came to the conclusion that Cung Le would be a great ambassador of the brand.  Zinkin and Cook reached out to their client, and Cung asked to speak with Ian before signing.  After hours of telephone conversation between the two, Cung felt at home with the brand and knew it was something to believe in.

MP: Is there a process when you sponsor fighters? How do you select fighters to sponsor?

CH: We always look to sponsor fighters with a certain level of character and charisma.  We don’t want the fighters to just wear the shirt, we want them to believe in the brand and become a part of the Cagehero family.

MP: Which organizations can you find fighters sponsored by Cagehero? Any chance Cagehero ever appears in the UFC?

CH: We predominately sponsor fighters in Strikeforce – Cung Le, Mayhem Miller, Luke Rockhold, Daniel Cormier, Josh Thomson, Miesha Tate, Gian Villante, Lavarr Johnson, Mike Kyle.  We also sponsor Bellator champ Ben Askren, and Brett Weedman.  We recently signed UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell to endorse our brand at UFC events as well.  As far as the move to the UFC… I guess you will have to wait and see!!

MP: What has been the response to your designs? Have you received any suggestions that you have used?

CH: Feedback has been great.  People tell us it is refreshing to a see a different brand that actually stands for something.  We are always open to suggestions from everybody.  Our fighters love to give insight into the characters they wear for their walkout as well.

MP: What is your biggest selling t-shirt?

CH: Our biggest selling shirt is our signature logo shirt “The Glow”.  This has been a hit for people of all ages.  Our Cagehero character shirt “The Fire” has gotten great response too.

MP: How has the business grown since you opened?

CH: We have steadily grown our business since day 1.  Just last weekend at Magic we broke into an additional 22 stores.

MP: What ways do you market Cagehero aside from sponsorship of fighters? Ads? Social media, etc.?

CH: Sponsoring fighters to become ambassadors of our brand, both in and outside the cage, is our primary form of marketing.  We have advertisements in industry magazines/websites, and social media marketing on FB/twitter.  We are currently producing some viral videos and developing a full-feature comic book.  You also could see our brand in the video game EA Sports MMA, as well as MMA Supremacy (releasing this summer)  Over the next 6 months we will be implementing a marketing  program to the youth and comic book world.  Also, a collaboration with a well known Street wear brand.

MP: What are the long-range plans? Any plans of expansion? Other products, etc.?

CH: Our long-term plan is to become the next Marvel.   We want our brand to spread outside of the MMA world, to connect with the comic book world, and also with youth across the world. We are in the process of developing our comic book and are in talks for action figures and our own video game.  We are working hard to create our own world, with in depth stories behind each of the characters.   To get an idea, go to cagehero.net and download our online catalog on the bottom left!

We are rolling out more products as we speak!

Check us on Facebook: CAGEHERO, Twitter: @cagehero, Website:  cagehero.net

Sponsorship Spotlight: XBox 360

February 22, 2011

MMA Payout had the opportunity to contact Mary Renouf of the Global Brand Marketing department of XBox for a Q&A about its recent sponsorship of Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson at UFC 126.

Johnson defeated Kid Yamamoto in the second match ever aired on UFC’s Facebook page.

MP: How did you decide to sponsor Demetrious Johnson? Was it in part due to the proximity of Johnson’s gym (AMC Pankration in Kirkland, WA) to the Microsoft campus?

XBox: When Xbox decides to get behind a person or brand, we spend a significant amount of time getting to know who they are on a personal and professional basis. We want to ensure their brand aligns with our Xbox brand and values. Demetrious Johnson (DJ) made sense on many levels – he participates in a sport that many of our core gaming consumers enjoy, he is a core gamer himself, spending a lot of his free time playing Xbox and is also a local! Xbox is a big supporter of Seattle (Washington) athletics – we sponsor the Sounders, Seahawks, Storm and Mariners. We don’t just look at these being sponsorships, but more importantly as “partnerships” that support the local area. DJ’s sponsorship fits into our local athlete support plans as he grew up, resides and trains in the Northwest.

We actually asked our consumers ahead of time for input, posting a question on Facebook about their interest in Mixed Martial Arts and in “Mighty Mouse.” What we learned is that our fans were really excited about Xbox getting behind the sport and such an exciting fighter who continues to succeed even with his “underdog” status. Given that his brand and values aligned very closely with ours, we felt he was a great ambassador for the sport of MMA and Xbox.

MP: Did his reps contact Xbox?

XBox: DJ’s team did contact us regarding some possibilities, and after spending time getting to know him, we thought this would be a great partnership but weren’t quite certain when we would release this announcement.

MP: Was the sponsorship planned? Did you target Johnson, or was the plan to sponsor a UFC fighter and Johnson was available?

Xbox: We specifically selected DJ for this partnership. Blindly sponsoring an individual just for the sake of getting in front of a potential target audience isn’t something that we take lightly as our brand values are very important to us. We have reviewed a few other UFC fighters in the past and determined it wasn’t the right time or fit to jump into this area.

MP: Did the sponsorship occur before or after it was known that Johnson would be fighting on air on Facebook?

XBox: The decision to announce the sponsorship occurred after the UFC confirmed the Johnson fight would be streamed on Facebook. Xbox is a big player in the social space, and we are always looking for ways to reach our target market within these networks. We felt it was a great way for us to give our 6.5M Facebook fans a chance to watch the fight in an environment in which they are already comfortable. Knowing this was only the second time ever that the UFC would broadcast a fight live on Facebook, we thought it was a great opportunity to keep our brand on the cutting edge of digital entertainment.

MP: What are the terms of the sponsorship (a year, a number of fights, etc.)?

XBox: We typically don’t share sponsorship information publically. We do feel DJ has tremendous potential inside and outside of the Octagon, and we look forward to being part of the journey.

MP: What does the sponsorship entail? (T-shirts, signage, appearances, ads, etc?)

XBox: For the first event (UFC 126), we supported DJ with promotion of the event, inclusion in our social communities and T-shirts for him and his team. In the future, you can look for DJ in other Xbox experiences such as digital programs, live events, etc.

MP: Does Xbox 360 foresee sponsoring other fighters?

XBox: It’s really too early to say at this point. We have spent time learning about the sport and its fighters and are still assessing what makes the most sense for our brand and what meets the needs of our consumers.

MP: How about sponsorship in the UFC or other MMA organizations?

XBox: We are focused right now on DJ and potentially a few other fighters that fit our brand and target audience. We don’t necessarily see this carrying over to the overall organizations, but we will closely monitor the effectiveness of these programs to determine the best direction for the future.

MP: Does Xbox plan on doing any promotions for the UFC Fight Night in Seattle in March?

XBox: We don’t have anything planned at this point in time.

MP: How does sponsoring Johnson advance your marketing strategy to your key demographics?

XBox: Our core Xbox consumers love action-packed experiences, both in game and in real life. They also have above average use of the Internet as an entertainment source. As we are always looking for new ways to offer this part of our fan base the chance to do both – enjoy a great entertainment experience in the digital space – we viewed this as a very positive opportunity.

MP: What has been the response to the sponsorship of Johnson? Positive, negative, too soon to tell?

Xbox: Our fans are a very vocal group – in fact, our brand has one of the highest levels of fan engagement of all brands on Facebook. That being said, we were very pleased with the reception of this program. Within thirty minutes of announcing the partnership, we had hundreds of comments on our Facebook post, including things such as “The greatest sport ever is being sponsored by the greatest game system ever!” and “Thanks for making great games and supporting awesome fighters like DJ.” They are definitely clambering for more activation in the MMA space.

Sponsor spotlight: Safe Auto Insurance – Part 1

November 30, 2010

MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with first time fight sponsor Safe Auto Insurance and MMA Management company VF Elite Sports Agency about Safe Auto’s foray into sponsoring UFC fighters. The first part will focus on Safe Auto. The second part will focus on VF Elite Sports Agency.  

Safe Auto and VF have entered into an agreement where Safe Auto will sponsor VF represented fighters.

Safe Auto is an Ohio based company of about 1,000 employees offering affordable, state-minimum auto insurance to automobile drivers in 14 states.

Elie Deshe, VP of Emerging Media for Safe Auto Insurance, spoke to MMA Payout while en route to speak with Thiago Silva, one of its newest members of its fight team. Silva fights Brandon Vera on Jan. 1st. In addition to Silva, Safe Auto will sponsor Stephan Bonnar on Dec. 4th at the Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale, Clay Guida on Jan. 1st at UFC 125 and Jake Ellenberger at Ultimate Fight Night 23 on Jan. 22nd. Travis Browne was Safe Auto’s first sponsored fighter at UFC 120. 

MP: Have you been involved in any other sports-related sponsorships?

SA: In the past, SA was involved in sponsorships with the NFL, the NBA and specifically with the Cleveland Cavaliers. SA has also sponsored a truck in the NASCAR truck series. Deshe indicated that while some SA employees were MMA fans, others did not know of the sport. However, with the sponsorship, more SA employees are aware of MMA.

MP: What demographic are you trying to reach with your sponsorship?

SA: The 18-49 (age group) demographic and anyone that needs insurance. This covers a lot of different groups.

MP: What does SA want out of the sponsorship?

SA: Its more about having a presence in all of the events. SA doesn’t want to be seen in just one shot. We want people to think of SA when they think of auto insurance. This sort of goes along with our philosophy–we’re always around.

MP: Do you have a say as to the fighters that sponsor SA?

SA: Obviously, SA approves of the fighters. They must portray a good image. We have been very happy with the guys (identified to sponsor SA in upcoming fights).

MP:  How long is your sponsorship commitment?

SA: 1 year.

MP: What measurement will you use to determine the success of sponsoring MMA fighters?

SA: We’re going to be launching a website for the Safe Auto Fight Team (www.safeauto.com/mma) to allow people to have access to the fighters.  The web site will feature interviews and interactive contests. There are ways to measure that sort of traffic and interest. We hope that this definitely leads to more sales. *The web site is currently online.

Below is a video of SA sponsor Stephan Bonnar, featured on the Safe Auto MMA site.

MP: What type of fight night placement do you have on the fighters?

SA: Every (SA) fighter has a hat (on walkout), placement on their fight banner and rear placement on their shorts. SA discussed with VF Elite (fighter’s representatives) the need for consistency with its placement (of the SA logo) on the fighters and they understood.

Note: Stephan Bonnar is not a VF represented fighter but an agreement was made between VF and Bonnar’s representatives where Safe Auto will sponsor Bonnar.