Friday, April 18, 2014

The Art of Marketing

by Brian Doerfler on April 15, 2013

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“Do you want to be a &*#$% fighter?!” UFC President Dana White made headlines when he gave what is possibly his most infamous speech to the first batch of TUF contestants. The message was clear: did these guys understand what they were in for? Did they really understand what it took to be a fighter? In the roughly 20 years that Mixed Martial Arts as we know it has been around, fighters have definitely figured it out. Or have they?

The success of The Ultimate Fighter has been linked to several factors. Possibly the most important of those factors was the ability of the UFC to convert fans of professional wrestling into MMA fans. Dana White and his business partners brilliantly placed the first season of TUF directly after WWE Raw on SPIKE TV without any commercial separation between the two programs. Wrestling fans who had just tuned in to watch RAW were treated to a new cast of TUF characters who greatly resembled athletes who had just appeared in the WWE programming. They were in shape. They were colorful. They had crazy hair and tattoos. They said inflammatory things that blurred the lines between appropriate and not appropriate. These athletes were raw (pardon the pun).

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It shouldn’t come, then, as any surprise that a large contingent of MMA fans expect MMA fighters to behave like professional wrestlers. And what do we know of professional wrestling? Obviously there are intense physical demands on athletes in both sports but professional wrestlers have always excelled in “selling” their fights. Wrestlers are expected to be able to handle themselves while holding a microphone. They are expected to sell pay-per-views by saying inflammatory things towards their opponent. They are expected to fabricate a blood feud with their opponent even if one doesn’t exist.

Both wrestling and MMA are largely driven by pay-per-view revenue and it takes something extra to get fans to doll out $50 of their hard earned money. We don’t just want to see the sport. We want to see the end of a story. We want to see the final chapter. The first chapter is written by the UFC’s marketing machine. The second chapter is written by the fighters in their interviews. The final chapter takes place in the cage. Unfortunately, most fighters haven’t figured out the second chapter.

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Next Saturday night, Chael Sonnen will help write the final chapter in his rivalry with Jon Jones. For his part, Chael has done everything in his power to promote the fight. A visit to his twitter account will show you that Chael tweets a daily countdown to the fight coupled with a clever statement.

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You’ll notice that every tweet is hashtagged with “#UFC159”. Chael is spending every single day hyping the fight to his followers. He gets the sport.

Will Chael be successful on Saturday night? Will he walk away with the 205lb belt? Depending on which site you visit, Chael is somewhere between an 800 – 900 point underdog. The odds are not in his favor. The most likely scenario will see Jon Jones with his hand raised in victory. Sonnen will likely walk away from Saturday a loser. Or will he?

According to MMA-Manifesto Chael Sonnen currently sits at 53rd on the disclosed, all-time UFC earning list. That’s not bad for a fighter whose UFC record currently sits at 6-5-0.  For his last fight against Anderson Silva, Chael made a reported $50,000. The key word in this statement is “reported”. Dana White and the UFC have frequently made mention of the fact that they are perfectly willing to reward fighters for helping the company be successful. What do you suppose they slid under the table for a fighter who helped drive over 1 million PPV buys at UFC 148?

Fighters by their very nature are driven by the desire to win. MMA is a sport full of testosterone and alpha-males (and now females) who are relentless in their pursuit of success. Hopefully, for the sake of the fighters, more athletes realize that success can be easily supplemented with a little bit of personality, and a lot of microphone work.

 

Brian Doerfler is the Social Media Manger for TITLE Boxing and TITLE MMA.

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