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.
We have been blessed to work with some amazing athletes and sponsors over the past few years. They both shared one thing in common, they gain exposure when they perform, and in that performance they have a 50% or greater chance to loose. Throughout this time in the sport of MMA, fighters complain that they do not earn enough and the sponsors claim to not be able to identify the return on investment (ROI) involved.
One of the big issues is that the athletes are usually too busy to market themselves correctly and do not have the right representation helping them find the time and tools to build their own fame outside of the events. The sponsors rarely activate the sponsorship and roll the dice on the event. Yet the athlete they are paying has little to no control over the event, if they show the sponsors logos or the very important walkout. Some brands have paid mid five-figures per fight to have their shirt worn during the walkout and post-fight coverage.
Many opportunities to engage the consumer and potential consumers are often missed or ignored and the activation is almost non-existent. The major promotions like the UFC regulate and restrict which sponsors are allowed and even charge the Brands a sponsorship participation fee. This fees can sometimes be in the mid to high five figures per year. They are not given anything that any other brand is given. You would think that this “tax” would increase the sponsors desire to get more for their investment. Instead it appears to have only reduced the amount the sponsors are willing to pay, made the sponsors focus more on if the event will be televised, and at the same time weeded out the small to medium apparel companies from the mix and removed their ability to support athletes. That is at least what they will have you believe. The fact is, many have just used this “tax” as a reason to leave the sport because they never developed an ROI.
We have brought in many non-endemic sponsors that are focused on the athletes and are willing to look at the events as “bonus” exposure while working with the athlete in a true endorsement fashion. One of the UFC’s major sponsors, Bud Light and it’s parent company, is arguably one of the largest Sports Marketing agencies in the world. They are also one of the most successful.
There is no missing the event involvement Bud Light has in place with the UFC. Their approach to their MMA Fight Team is less about big in-event placement on the athlete and instead more focused on outside the event endorsement. They use their athletes in their retail point of sale advertisements, use the athletes image and likeness in their bar and restaurant advertising, produce webisode series promoting the athletes and more. They make sure they ingrain their brand and athletes at every possible outlet and event. It may be argued that they provide equal or greater promotion of these athletes than the UFC does.
So what are some of the solutions? The first step is for the Brands to realize they are sponsoring and endorsing an athlete. They need to have a plan in place on how they are going to extract value from the sponsorship and utilize these athletes. Instead of looking at it as a billboard type logo placement it must instead be viewed as a relationship. They have to get beyond being a fan of the athlete because that will only lead to the most expensive Facebook photo in the world. Second, they need to activate around the athlete and his or her platform. Use the events these athlete’s participate in as spikes in exposure and capitalize on the ability the events have to engage the target consumer but do not make this the be all, end all effort. The athletes and their team need to make sure they have a platform to offer. The brands need to try to coordinate and cross promote whenever possible.
As you can see Wrangler does a great job with this. They offer a wide array of their shirts with various PRCA and PBR sponsor logos on the shirt along with their Wrangler logo. I know MMA has to get away from having seven competing fight brands on one tee shirt and shorts before they can offer this type of merchandise. As you will see in the slide show below it is not just Rodeo either, many sports employ this model. You are also not tied to using all of the brands as you see with the Wrangler shirt above.
Here is the Official NASCAR Team DuPont Jersey.
And here is a NASCAR fan wearing the same jersey.
Obviously there are no competing brands on this jersey but you see various brands showcased and the primary brand DuPont is prominent. The fans buy these jerseys for the same reason they buy NFL, NBA and MLB apparel because it is authentic looking.
I recently moved to the Central Coast of California and on any given day you see a slew of Cyclists riding through the hills, coast line, and throughout town. I started to notice the majority of them are wearing authentic team apparel. Either Radio Shack has started sponsoring every cyclist in the world or once again we are seeing fans and practitioners of the sport seeking authentic apparel. Here are some examples –
Here is the Team Radio Shack cycling uniform.
Here is the Team using the uniform
And once again here is a fan who has sought, purchased, and is proudly representing the brand in the exact same gear.
This is not really a sport specific phenomenon. The fact is NASCAR, NBA, Soccer, MLB, NFL, PBR, PRCA, Motocross, Indy Car and more derive a considerable amount of revenue from this type of merchandise. The brands exposure is extended beyond the athlete, the event, and the athlete’s platform and the marketing provided by the Brand. The exposure alone is a tangible return on the sponsors investment and having your brand worn by your target consumer or applied to your target consumers personal property becomes an extremely valuable proposition for the brands supporting these athletes and Teams.
The majority of the MMA industry is missing this market and opportunity. From the athletes to the brands no one seems to be making any replica merchandise. There is no doubt that there is a demand for these types of products. There is no doubt that in these tough economic times we need the sponsors to be more successful then ever before and at the same time find a way to extend the engagement beyond the events.
The managers and agents in the sport of MMA need to get out of the patch business and get into the brand building business. They need to build the brands of the athletes they represent and help guide the brands that support those athletes to successful and controllable engagements. If you are merely trading logos for dollars based on exposure you did not create you are on the path to failure for you and your clients.
The athletes need to look for ways to connect with the fans and extract value for the sacrifices made. Depending on events and televised exposure you can not and do not control is a recipe for disaster. You need to yourself or have other people helping you build your brand and increase your exposure even when you are not fighting.
Brock Lesnar’s sponsor Death Clutch has offered replica walk out tees in the past. They seem to be one of the few brands or athletes offering such items. In the past you used to be able to buy the Overeem Replica Fight shorts. The issue with fight shorts is that unless you can kick ass like The Reem you probably should not be wearing his shorts. It is kind of like showing up to your first BJJ class with 20 sponsors on your gi.
Here is the Death Clutch UFC 116 walk out tee:
We have had one client that fought 9 times and 3 of which were in the UFC and he had earned just under $100,000 for 3 years of work and 9 fights that he won, his MMA earnings were predicated on when or if he fought. The same client is now a millionaire based on competing 3 times over two years. He has months where he makes $50,000 and has consistently has earned a monthly income from his endeavors in and out of the Octagon. The difference has been focusing on building his brand and finding ways for his sponsors to earn their ROI. He has both endemic and non-endemic sponsors alike.
The authentic and replica tee shirts are a great opportunity to increase your brand, your sponsors branding, and your income as an athlete. You can go to any size event and you will see merchandise similar to what you see here and in our slide show. If the athletes do not create these then the brands should. Even the video games strive to ingrain authentic sponsors on the in-game characters on both the THQ and EA Sports MMA games.
This should not be ignored and it very well may be the lowest hanging fruit in the entire MMA market. If you trained would you wear replicas of your favorite fighters shorts or rash guard?
I am sure just about everyone in the US has seen that NASCAR fan who has their personal possessions or vehicles with logos from the brands that support their favorite athlete.
Here is a slide show that shows various sport jerseys and tee shirts and the fans that wear them. It is easy to see the potential market that is out there. A lot of these fans are cross over fans and are fans of many sports.