UFC revamps brand to answer ‘mindless violence’ critics

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is prepping a pan-European commercial charge to give the brand more relevance after admitting its efforts to sell the US sport across the region have been blighted by the sport’s associations with “mindless violence”. 

UFC bosses are looking to build a narrative around the sport to shake off its

The sport’s governing body has spent the last three years promoting the sport through PR and limited broadcast coverage in markets such as the UK and Sweden. While the strategy has helped make it the fastest growing sport in the world, according to organisers, it is now expanding its marketing content, live events, merchandise and an educational drive to attract fans following other sports.

The organisation is building its first European sponsorship roster to accelerate the four-pronged strategy locally alongside upcoming campaigns from global partners such as Gillette and Budweiser Light. It is hoping  plans to roll out branded gyms across the region helps convince potential partners of its ability to create additional revenue streams.

Garry Cook, VP and managing director of EMEA for UFC , told Marketing Week the gyms will serve as touchpoints for people who are not aware of the MMA brand, while also positioning it as an elite performance sport. With the sport now available in over a billion households worldwide, the “time is right” to address the “distinct lack of understanding” about MMA across Europe, he adds.

Cook says: “What we’re trying to do across Europe is dimensionalise the brand through online channels and focus our content on inspiring people to be as a fit as fighter. Unlike other sports we produce and control all of our content and there’s an opportunity to monetise that in the digital arena at a time when the sport is growing in popularity. This takes us from being a fight promoter to becoming a global media company.”

UFC, which has more than 50,000 hours of archived content, is prepping a marketing push to recruit more fans for its UFC.TV online service. It claims a “considerable” number of visitors are purchasing the content to view online, but adds it has to “tidy up” in many markets where digital rights have been handed to broadcasters not using them.

Meanwhile, the organisation is developing a free-to-play mobile game to run alongside a console title being developed by EA Sports.

Cook adds: “We’re not necessarily looking to keep talking to our core fans. What we’re trying to do is convert football, rugby and cricket fans who see that their sporting heroes have heroes [in MMA]. There’s a real conversion agenda at hand and we need to create compelling stories to move that forward.”

It is an objective UFC chiefs are looking to spearhead through planned TV coverage of matches in cities such as London and Berlin next year. The organisation is currently in discussions with free-to-air broadcasters to show the bouts alongside behind-the-scenes features hosted by referees and UFC doctors to educate viewers. Visitors to next year’s matches at the O2 will be able to take part in fitness challenges as well as watch lectures from MMA experts on training and fitness for the first time.

Cook acknowledges the sport’s “flavour of the month” status, but says its ties with local broadcasters such as BT Sport will help ensure it keeps attracting 18-to-34 year olds “for the next five years at least”. He also hinted at the prospect of the UFC occupying a primetime spot on Saturday night in the UK claiming “what we don’t have is the ultimate male product and I wonder if guys at 9pm might be looking for something to watch”.

“Before a ball was ever put through a  hoop, or kicked into a net, somebody threw a punch and whoever was in the vicinity turned round to watch it. We’re branding an age old sport and making it available to the masses”, Cook says.

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