Is the UFC's Global Expansion Fundamentally Misguided?

Matthew HemphillCorrespondent IIFebruary 22, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 16: UFC President Dana White speaks with the media after a press conference promoting UFC 145: Jones v Evans at Philips Arena on February 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The UFC wants to be the first sport that truly has a global following and the best fan base in the world. But even though fighting might be universal, marketing isn't.

While there will always be fans that enjoy MMA, the UFC sells itself a certain way, and that is going to not only alienate certain age groups but cultures as well.

Will someone in Estonia respond the same way an American would to the metal music intro that plays in advertisements? 

Will Japanese fans respond the same way Brazilian fans do to MMA being practiced in a cage instead of a ring?

Will Chinese fans warmly welcome the brash president of the UFC, Dana White, the way other fans have?

No matter what culture people come from, there will be some variation. Depending on age and personal preferences, some fans and potential viewers won't care about the differences, but that doesn't mean culture doesn't play a role in what people enjoy.

There is a reason that Asian culture and European culture is different. It is based off of not just different geography and weather but beliefs and history. Even food is different depending on where someone comes from.

Just like the examples mentioned above, sports are the same way.

White, the president of the UFC, works everyday to make the UFC and MMA the greatest sport in the world. What he has been able to do in just one decade is jaw-dropping.

He took a failing promotion and a fringe sport and transformed it into something that is enjoyed by millions and makes millions in the process. He wants to see it encompass the globe and take over the world.

To some degree it has, but there comes a point in time where the growth will stop unless the UFC adapts to each country and culture it runs into. Without that change, the company will never expand past a certain point.

The best example is soccer.

Most of the world knows the sport as football, and when the World Cup starts, most of them treat it like the mega-event it is. The fans, culture and different colors are all blended together in a way that makes it work.

For the most part.

The problem is that America doesn't treat the World Cup like the rest of the globe does. It may get attention and mean something to soccer fans here, but it isn't the big deal the Super Bowl is. The Super Bowl's ads get media attention in America that rivals the coverage of the World Cup.

That's because in the United States, American football connects with the culture.

There can only be a handful of sports that captivates people and makes them actively watch. While it is almost impossible to get everyone to be anything more then a casual fan, there are events where a majority of people tune in in a few sports.

The ones that permeate the society.

If the UFC wants to do that, it is going to have to invest heavily in marketing itself differently in each country and region it is trying to open up. The UFC has to find a way to connect to the culture and people that they are trying to influence.

Everyone knows what it means when to fighters trade blows inside the ring, but the UFC is selling more then that when it puts on a show. The UFC is selling an experience.

And unless it makes minor variations in its marketing a global expansion, it will just end up being lost in translation.


Matthew Hemphill writes for the MMA and professional wrestling portion of Bleacher Report.  He also hosts a blog that focuses on books, music, comic books, video games, film and generally anything that could be related to the realms of nerdom.