The House is gearing up for a battle over spending taxpayers money on sports sponsorship. The focus is on NASCAR but you cannot cut NASCAR without affecting all sports. The UFC recently inked a deal with the US Marines and many Mixed Martial Artists (“MMA”) have been sponsored by Military divisions. If the measure passes these expenditures would cease.
Republicans are divided over topics that usually unite them (spending cuts, military and NASCAR) and the Democrats are excited to have the distraction. At the heart of the battle is the $80 million dollars spent on sports sponsorships and the return on that investment. The proponents say $20 million a race is way too much. While supporters of the sponsorship programs, like Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. William Ingram Jr. say “the program is effective. “ Without the draft, the Military needs to find ways to reach their target demographic.
There is no question that the Military’s target demographic is watching NASCAR and UFC type events. The in-content exposure is valuable and hard to miss. When marquee brands like Nike are cutting TV and Print spending by 40% in favor of Team and Event sponsorships it seems like an odd move by the House to pressure the Military in exactly the opposite direction.
As the US Marines learned with their UFC deal, there are other valuable sports properties that allow the Military to reach its target demographic and not spend $20 million per event. The model in play with the UFC makes a ton of sense for The Marines. The Marines are getting in-content branding on the most sought after sports property around. They get interaction with the athletes, digital placement on the UFC’s website and more.
Unlike NASCAR or other sports like Bull Riding, MMA also opens the door to real engagements with the target demographic. This engagement can go well beyond the recruiting phase too. We all have seen the UFC and Marine marketing program. The House should be looking at ways to get more for the expenditures. Ideas like:
MMA Athletes showing up during Basic Training to help during Combatives Training.
Military discounts on Merchandise and Tickets.
Armed Forces MMA Team – While on Active Duty the ability to train and compete at the amateur level (like they do with other sports like Boxing and Wrestling).
Veterans that were on the Armed Forces Team get immediate entry into TUF and their Pro card is paid for, in return they continue to represent their Branch of service. Guys like Brian Stann should be a sponsored athlete and a part of a program that helps transition the soldier athlete to a professional athlete.
Lifetime free entry in signature events like Grapplers Quest and NAGA for active Military and Veterans.
Ideas like those will only enhance the ROI. From a MMA perspective the price the Military allegedly spends on one race would fund all of the above programs for several years. Every service member will learn some form of hand to hand combat during their enlistment. There is no reason not to offer MMA as a Team Sport on the bases. The opportunity to enhance the return on investment has never been better.
The House needs to realize that it is less about how much they spend and more about how they spend it. If NASCAR has become too expensive then find other sport properties that reach the same demographic. If you can find sports like MMA that weave into the basic structure of current Military life then you can find others. You don’t have to spend $20,000,000 per race to reach your target demographic. You don’t have to kill off your marketing plans because one part of the plan has become too expensive. Just replace it. The sport of Mixed Martial Arts would welcome this budget and the branding would be dominant and active 24/7 like our Military.
Last night’s UFC on FX 4 main event was everything that the major brands want to avoid. There is not a lot of control during a fight. If a guy bites another guy’s ear off the world will be watching. If a guy flips off his opponent a few times on FX, the world will be watching.
The Marketing VP that tells me the sport is too violent and the athletes are too unpredictable was just proven right. The Marketing VP that was taking a “wait and see approach” is going to wait a little bit longer. It is bad enough that we have a champion calling on the Major Brands and a few weeks later show up on TMZ arrested for a DUI single car accident with women that are not his fiancee.
The baseline of this sport should be that it is a form of Martial Arts. You can promote a fight without tarnishing your brand or the value of the guy you are fighting. What did James Tooney call Randy Couture? Then Randy beat him up. So what does that make James? Trash talk is not about taking away from the athletes that compete, discounting those around you. It is about promoting yourself, building your brand and following.
Gray Maynard flipping off Clay Guida is about as far away from being a Martial Artist as you can get. In today’s connected world you cannot say you are one thing and be another. If you are the main event on a televised fight you need to carry yourself accordingly. There is a fine line between promoting a fight and losing your cool. The UFC releases athletes for sending stupid or inappropriate jokes on Twitter but is silent when a fight looks more like an episode of Jersey Shore than a UFC Main Event. The UFC should hand down some serious sanctions for this behavior, and FX should hand the UFC some serious sanctions.
Who is managing these athletes? Where is the training and education of what it means to build your own brand and respect the brand platforms that you are leveraging to build yours? Talking about Coors Light while standing on a Bud Light logo, getting DUI’s, flipping the bird on National TV, and ‘motorboating’ female journalists all hurt the sport’s growth potential. Anderson Silva is reportedly being paid $250,000 to work with Burger King in Brazil. How many Burger Kings are in Brazil vs the US? Yet there are no reports of any mainstream deals of this size for any US based Mixed Martial Artist. I can almost assure you that there won’t be anytime soon if our high profile athletes keep acting the way they are acting in and outside of the Octagon.
There will be enough people that will trash or try to diminish the opponents you face. Your role as a Martial Artist is to respect the sport and your opponents and to train hard to give yourself every advantage possible to win. The way you carry yourself will affect your earnings and the earnings of those that come after you. What do you want your legacy to be?
There has been a lot of talk about The Ultimate Fighter show and a lot of it has been kind of negative. If you look at the series with less angry eyes you will see that any show that can last 16 seasons is a successful series. NBC’s ‘Cheer’s’, one of the most successful series ever, ran 11 seasons. “The Ultimate Fighter’ (“TUF”) first aired in 2005 and is on its 7th year of being on Television going on its 16th season in the US and 2nd season Internationally. The show is now growing internationaly, in its second season in Brazil.
This got me thinking, many say the first season of TUF triggered the explosive growth that led many to claim MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the US.. TUF and other UFC Televised fights were rating successes in the male 18-35 demographic. Marketers are still talking about how MMA is a hit with males 18-35 and by all indications growing in popularity amongst females in the same demographic. This is what the advertisers are focused on. This valuable demographic has a history of being “elusive” and has been since the early 2000’s. But it’s been seven years since the Boom of MMA, the ’18-35′ of 2005 is now ’25-42′. Who is focusing on the 25-42M demographic that helped kick start this sport? Or for that matter the early adopters of the sport: the 30-55 Male?
As the sport matures and the fan base increases within the core demographic, brands should not lose sight of the fans that helped create the early iconic brands of the sport. As we age (yeah I am one of them) so do our tastes. However we still like a lot of the same things we used to like. Most of us are passionate about the sport and that passion stands the test of time. We are the demographic that gave this sport its legs and made sure it was able to run.
Look no further than the American Express retirement commercials from the late 90’s and today to see how sophisticated brands are shifting their message. They have gone from showing gray haired grandparents quietly puttering in their flower gardens to ‘salt and pepper’ youthful looking, yet older people out in the world on adventures with sky diving, snorkeling and enjoying their retired life. American Express knows that different generations age differently and wish to be advertised to differently.
I recently turned 40 and I do not think I would wear many of the current MMA brands myself. I like my tee shirts and Chuck Taylors like most guys my age, but no foil, wings or skulls with swords in the eye sockets are going to look right at my kids parent teacher conference.
The MMA specific brands need to remember the people that bought the products that built 100 million dollar companies are getting older and we still have money to spend if you want to make products we can use. For every core demographic there are secondary demographics of younger and older fans. One thing that can’t be ignored is that these fans are getting older as the sport matures and branding and message should be adjusted to continue to reach them.
Below you will find a pretty interesting infographic that shows the habits of the Generation Y or Millennium Generation. Let us know if you agree or disagree.
K-Swiss the parent company of Form is exiting the Mixed Martial Arts landscape. Form was one of the few companies that had a true endorsement model and activated around the athletes and sport. According to the companies Edgar filings they bought Form in 2010 for $1.6 million and lost about $3.7 million before tapping out.
From their public filing:
13. Form Athletics
On July 23, 2010, the Company entered into a Membership Interest Purchase Agreement (“Purchase Agreement”) with Form Athletics, LLC (“Form Athletics”) and its Members to purchase Form Athletics for $1,600,000 in cash. Form Athletics was established in January 2010 to design, develop and distribute apparel for mixed martial arts under the Form Athletics brand worldwide. The purchase of Form Athletics was part of an overall strategy to enter the action sports market, however, during the third quarter of 2011, the Company decided to no longer pursue operating in this line of business, as discussed below. Operations of Form Athletics have been accounted for and presented as a discontinued operation in the accompanying Consolidated Financial Statements.
Pursuant to the Purchase Agreement, the Company was obligated to pay additional cash consideration to certain Members of Form Athletics in an amount equal to Form Athletics’ EBITDA for the twelve months ended December 31, 2012 (“Form CPP”). The purchase price of $1,600,000 and the net present value of the initial estimate of the Form CPP was capitalized. The fair value of the Form CPP was determined each quarter based on the net present value of the current quarter’s projection of Form Athletics’ EBITDA for the twelve months ended December 31, 2012. Any subsequent changes to the Form CPP was recognized as interest income or interest expense during the applicable quarter.
The acquisition of Form Athletics was recorded as a 100% purchase and the Form CPP liability was recognized and accordingly, the results of operations of the acquired business were included in the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements from the date of acquisition. A trademark asset totaling $3,150,000 and goodwill of $539,000, were recognized for the amount of the excess purchase price paid over fair market value of the net assets acquired. The amount of goodwill that was deductible for tax purposes was $507,000 and will be amortized over 15 years.
At July 23, 2010, the acquired assets and liabilities assumed in the purchase of Form Athletics was as follows (in thousands):
July 23, 2010
Contribution by K•Swiss Inc.
Total stockholders’ equity
Total liabilities and stockholders’ equity
Since Form Athletics began operating in early 2010, operating results prior to the Company’s purchase of Form Athletics were not significant and pro forma information was not materially different than what was reported on the Company’s Consolidated Financial Statements.
During the second quarter of 2011, after a review of sales, backlog, cash flows and marketing strategy, the Company determined that its investment in the Form Athletics goodwill and trademark was impaired and recognized impairment losses of $3,689,000 (see Note 5) and reversed the Form CPP liability of $2,110,000, which was recognized as interest income.
(Disclaimer: Ingrained Media represents Athletes within the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. We have never done business with any of the companies listed below but certain members of our company have. Collectively these individuals made less then $1000 from their previous relationships with these companies. We have no current relationship with these companies.)
Media outlets ranging from The Wall Street Journal to all the top MMA websites have reported on the issuance of arrest warrants for several executives from the online gaming and poker sites such as Pokerstars.com and FullTiltPoker.com and that the government has shut down those URL’s . The Mixed Martial Arts industry claimed “It’s sponsors were shutdown” and one infamous agent said, “In the short-term, it will severely impact fighters’ sponsor revenue, which traditionally matched their show pay for our televised clients. I would venture to say the poker industry is equal to apparel industry as the No. 1 sponsor of fighters outside the UFC.”
We wanted to look into this situation and the billion dollar industry that will be impacted by these bans and the effects, if any, on the sport of MMA and the game of Poker..
A couple things that we need to make sure are clear: This is a US based ban that has a minimal impact on the overall international gaming market, and secondly, this is the US; these executives and companies are innocent until proven guilty.
The sponsors that the Mixed Martial Arts industry have been talking about are actually not the sites that have been taken down. The sponsor of the Mixed Martial Arts industry that is the most prominent is FullTiltPoker.net. The site that has been banned by the US Government is Fulltiltpoker.com. The difference is the .NET site is for entertainment and learning purposes and the .COM is the pay-for-play site. You would think that agent would know who his “number 2” sponsor is. That is, unless he did his deals with FullTiltPoker.com.
It is actually feasible to assume that the Full Tilt corporation will spend more in the US on its .NET presence since that is all they will be allowed to do. Many of the sites that are reporting on this story also earn income from the online gaming industry. I am not sure why or how they could misreport the information.
The Television lineup is still full of various cash poker games and anyone that can go to an Indian Reservation Casino or most of the Casinos in Las Vegas offer both electronic and live cash games. Many states have “poker rooms” that allow cash games and in houses across the US family and friends come together for friendly cash poker games. Poker is a game that dates back to the earliest settlers of this country. Poker is a part of America’s history and future.
Full Tilt Poker is on record saying:
“Dublin Ireland (April 15, 2011) – Full Tilt Poker is saddened by today’s charges against its CEO Raymond Bitar and offers its full support to Mr. Bitar and Nelson Burtnick.
Online poker is a game of skill enjoyed by tens of millions of people in the United States and across the world. And, Full Tilt Poker remains as committed as ever to preserving the rights of those players to play the game they love online.
Mr. Bitar and Full Tilt Poker believe online poker is legal – a position also taken by some of the best legal minds in the United States. Full Tilt Poker is, and has always been committed to preserving the integrity of the game and abiding by the law.
“I am surprised and disappointed by the government’s decision to bring these charges. I look forward to Mr. Burtnick’s and my exoneration”, said Mr. Bitar.
Unfortunately, as a result of this action, Full Tilt Poker has decided that it must suspend “real money” play in the United States until this case is resolved. However, Full Tilt Poker will continue to provide peer-to-peer online poker services outside of the United States.”
We tend to agree with Mr. Bitar’s claims. While we cannot reasonably or responsibly talk about the legal issues these 11 executives are facing, as we said they are innocent until proven guilty. What we do know is that many of the greatest legal minds contend that poker is a game of skill not chance and therefore not technically gambling. I love the game of poker myself. I have played on FullTiltPoker.net and we have a family tradition where we all gather over Thanksgiving and have a Texas Hold Em Tournament.
Online gambling and online poker just got a lot less convenient in the US. The courts are going to be forced to determine if online gambling and poker should be legal and if legal, who regulates the industry.
If you’re in the U.S., when you point your browser to any of those three gambling sites, you see a scary message: The U.S. government has seized the domain names of the three sites, preventing gambling transactions and anything else:
The Government claims that these businesses manipulated the banks in order to process these transactions (almost all of them conducted electronically) using wire transfers, credit cards and other means of commerce.
The problem gets a bit dicey when you realize that these three online gambling organizations are not based in the U.S. For instance, PokerStars’ headquarters is on the Isle of Man, a self-governed British Crown Dependency located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Here is an image of their headquarters.
Even if the US Government wins the judgement there is no guarantee that the Isle of Man or the other host countries where these business’ operate and are based will comply with the US extradition request or asset seizure request. There is huge disagreement about the legality of online gambling. Not to mention the economic impact these small countries would feel if these large industries ceased to exist.
Are we supposed to believe the banks and credit card companies did not notice billions of dollars of transactions coming and going out of very small countries? Bank of America calls me if I use my card in a store that is outside of my normal shopping habits but they could not detect the billions heading to Ilse of Man or Costa Rica?
Since we are talking about US law and online gambling being illegal in the US, some questions obviously arise. The US Government is for the people, by the people, right? A recent poll of US citizens with over 3100 responses indicates the people are siding with the poker companies. 52% of those asked said online gambling should be legal and that it is a victimless crime, 33% said as long as it was regulated and only 15% said no. So 85% of the people polled feel as if online gambling should be legal and if we were asking them about poker only the percentage would be in the mid to high 90’s.
Last but surely not least, Full Tilt Poker specifically is just a platform. The laws that are being violated if online poker is illegal are being broken by the users of Full Tilt Poker, not the company itself. If the Government prevails in it’s case against Full Tilt and others, are the Internet providers who connect the users responsible? Or how about the poker table manufacturer? Full Tilt is not a wagering company or betting company. They are the virtual version of a Card Room; they merely provide a service to those who wish to test their skills against others for fun, prizes or money. It is duly regulated and licensed by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission.
The residents of the US seem to want to be able to play poker and gamble online and poker seems to be at its all time high in popularity. The few in opposition of the game and its legality should be reminded of Las Vegas. It was a relatively unregulated home to the Mob who handled and profited from the gambling industry. The US Government did not shut down Las Vegas, they cleaned it up and regulated it. The Mob was servicing millions of tourists (the voting public) and the Government found a way to keep them playing. Now Vegas represents a billion dollar industry.
For a company that has always found a way to brand itself (NSFW) in a industry valued in the billions we think the fight has just begun.
Or look at China. Some of Las Vegas’s biggest “whales” came from Asia and specifically China. China took a small island that had historically been plagued with prostitution and some of the lowest numbers trade jobs in the region. It has been transformed to a Chinese Las Vegas. Many of the same casinos located in Las Vegas have locations there. It has become extremely successful and transformed the economy of the region.
The law makers and media do not need to worry about the MMA athletes who are sponsored by websites still operating and very much in need of promotion. We need to ask our Senate and Congress to try to find a way to do what the majority of the people want and legalize poker and online gambling. Virtual gaming will help our economy and could create jobs here in the US if we found a way to embrace rather than erase this business.