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The UFC and its brand first philosophy

For the last few months I have been writing about the fact that the UFC markets its brand first and fighters second. Now, the Law Vegas Review Journal has a revealing article in which UFC officials talk about the importance of the UFC brand name.

The review Journal asked the UFC COO and its owner why the UFC pays its fighters much smaller purses than top boxers receive for appearing in similarly sized PPV events, and the UFC justified this (in part) by explaining that its brand made money for the fighters:

“And we throw a lot of sponsorship money into their laps,” [UFC Chief Operating Officer Kirk] Hendrick said. “We built this brand and without the UFC name, they wouldn’t be getting that kind of money.”

When Hendrick, a former Nevada deputy attorney general who represented the state athletic commission when [UFC owner Lorenzo] Fertitta was a member, was told that boxers frequently get sponsorships in addition to their pay, he grimaced and said nothing.

But Fertitta said being affiliated with the UFC makes a fighter more attractive in the marketplace. Once a fighter competes for the UFC, he is often marketed in smaller shows as a “UFC star” and he commands more money from sponsors, Fertitta said.

“We spent a lot of time and an awful lot of money building the brand and those three letters — UFC — mean a lot,” Fertitta said.

Some might argue that fighters also helped build the UFC brand with their sweat and blood. But I am sure that argument would not go over well with the UFC management.

In any event, it seems clear that the UFC has made marketing its brand its highest priority. From its perspective, this makes sense. If fans think that MMA is the UFC, then other promotions will face a tough time challenging it. A lack of serious competition means that the UFC faces less pressure to raise fighters’ purses.

If, on the other hand, the UFC had made promoting fighters and “MMA” its primary focus then those fighters could have more easily earned big purses and moved between promoters. But, the UFC has had no real incentive to make fighers or the sport of MMA more important than the UFC brand name, and thus it has not taken that marketing approch.

Randy Couture neatly summed up the current situation when the reporter asked him about UFC salaries:

“I guess there’s potential for an issue there,” Couture said. “But let’s be honest: Their marquee fighters are well taken care of. They make a lot more money than they could possibly make anywhere else.

“The top guys, the ones who are selling the pay-per-views, may feel a little slighted when they see a guy like (boxer) Oscar De La Hoya making $10 million a fight when we did numbers as good or better, but it will happen one day.”

That one day will come when there are promotions that can truly challenge the UFC for the American fans’ interest and compete for top fighters. Will Pride, the WFA, Strikeforce, the IFL, the new Bodog promotion or any of the others be able to do so? That, of course, remains to be seen.

Update 8/23: Zach Arnold thinks that the new Bodog promotion, which is backed by one of the richest people on earth, has the best shot at challenging the UFC.

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3 Responses

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  1. Just Like Pro Wrestling!

  2. “‘We spent a lot of time and an awful lot of money building the brand and those three letters — UFC — mean a lot,’ Fertitta said.”

    You wrote: “Some might argue that fighters also helped build the UFC brand with their sweat and blood.”

    Do you think a guy whose family made millions by having thousands of suckers lose at these casinos where the odds are mathematically and, in Nevada, legally rigged in the house’s favor gives a shit? They are parasites, pure and simple, and they take that attitude directly into mma.

    That is why their payouts are even worse than those from boxing promoters.

  3. For once, I agree with Dana White.

    He is quoted in the online edition of the Miami Herald as saying, “The bottom line is people aren’t reading newspapers any more. The 18-34 year-olds that we’re crushing and that’s watching us, they go on the internet for all their information.”

    http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/sports/boxing/15333893.htm

    He then overhyped ufc.com, but his basic point is correct.

    In boxing, saying something like this is highly controversial, despite mountains of statistics to back it up. That to an important degree accounts for what has been happening in both sports.

    We now return your computers to our regular program of Zuffa-bashing.