On last 22nd March 2016, a very important statement was released by the State of New York: the ban on MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) has been removed after a 20-year period with a final floor vote of 113 to 25, reintroducing MMA among the sports allowed in the state. The ban was due to the sport’s excessive violence, which is still a matter of concern for many, as they think this kind of show may have impact on social problems like domestic violence and omophoby. What stays is that the most prestigious MMA league, the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), acknowledged the opportunity created by this statement, as you can see from this tweet they released just after the news came out:
Thank You NY State Legislature for making MMA in New York a reality! #MMA4NY pic.twitter.com/5fBCsu1nLZ— UFC (@ufc) March 22, 2016
A record-setting sale
During 2000, with global interest for the UFC lacking, Lorenzo and Frank Ferritta bought the promotion for 2 million dollars. 16 years later, thanks to the great work put in by the Ferritta brothers and Dana White, along with the explosion of stars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, the company was sold to the WME-IMG group for an astonishing 4 BILLION dollars. That’s a huge amount of money (5 times the 2015 gross revenues, estimated around 600 million) and a sounding testament to the UFC success. To put everything in perspective, Repucom (now Nielsen Sports) released a research at the end of 2015 saying that MMA fans all over the world are 348 million, while UFC ones are 58 million.
What’s more, a subplot of the whole sale is that many minority shares were sold to famous celebrities, who can represent a perfect platform to make UFC a more mainstream thing than it already is. Among them, we can find the likes of actors like Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg, athletes like Tom Brady and Serena Williams, singers like Adam Levine and Serena Williams.
The reasons behind UFC success
As we said earlier, you have to give credit to the promoter Dana White, who has been able to bring out the commercial potential of his stars and of the whole show, attracting big sponsors like Reebok, Monster, Harley-Davidson and many more. The ability of UFC management was to recognize the need for new fans, and so to elaborate coherent strategies in order to reach that goal. Among the initiatives put in place by Dana White, one has been to involve athletes that became famous in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), the biggest wrestling brand in the world. Although these athletes are trained for a very different discipline, made of spectacular moves executed according to an agreed-upon script, the strong connection they built with their audience represents a can’t-miss opportunity for UFC to go toward mainstream public. Because of that, professional wrestlers like Brock Lesnar (who also became UFC Heavyweight champion once) and CM Punk (who instead had only a match against Mickey Gall when he was miserably defeated) made their way into the octagon, and every time they were featured in pay-per-views they got high revenues figures.
Another cool thing the UFC has been carrying on is a content strategy around storytelling, that became a series of behind-the-scenes documentaries about the octagon’s stars named “UFC Embedded”. By doing this, the promotion is giving fans a chance to sneak into memorable moments like this chat between Dana White and Daniel Cormier (starting from 4:12), where the first announces that Jon Jones tested positive ahead of UFC 200:
Finally, the UFC was capable to make its press conferences attractive like they are events on their own, gaining incredible media and fans attention. The king here is Conor McGregor without a doubt, who gifted all of us great deal of classics: the last one was his heated exchange with Eddie Alvarez ahead of UFC 205 (“I rule New York, I rule this s**t”, in classic McGregor fashion), preceded by the riot with Nate Diaz and his team (that costed Conor a 150.000 dollars fine, commented with a brilliant tweet “I get fined more than these bums get paid”) and by the surreal press conference in Dublin, his hometown, where the event was genially opened to the public, with spectacular yet not-so-professional outcomes.
UFC 205 heads to the Madison Square Garden
All these strategies, along with the historic announcement by the state of New York, made it possible for the league to organize UFC 205 at the Madison Square Garden, the well-known arena as the Mecca of sports events. It should come to no surprise that the card of UFC 205 contains a lot of unmissable matches, and three world titles will be put up for grabs. Everything seems ready for an historic night that could become a significant moment for the UFC and for mixed martial arts. If you still need something more to build hype towards the event, the UFC realized this compelling video that make us realize how this Saturday will be a day like no other.