We live in an increasingly global community. For a business to be successful it can't isolate itself to the United States and remain viable long-term. The UFC is poised to explode upon the European market over the next few years in search of true global success.
The recent success of UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland fueled the following comments from UK UFC president Marshall Zeleznik in Fighters Only Magazine:
“Lorenzo [Fertitta] and I were speaking and one thing we were trying to figure out is how to put on a show in Ireland every St Patrick’s Day. We want to figure out, no matter what day of the week it is, how to put on fights here on that day and it’s something we’re trying to do right away. Eventually, the UFC will be around the world all the time and I think we’ll have a regular home here in Ireland.”
That is good news for MMA fans of Ireland. UFC 93, which was the second show to go there, sold out in only four days.
The UFC’s next European event will take place this saturday at UFC 95 in London, England. England is no stranger to UFC events. This will be the sixth event across the pond. You know British fans are hooked when they start to complain about not getting the quality of fights that happen in the U.S.
After UFC 95, the UFC will invade Germany for UFC 99. It will be the comapny's first European event outside of Great Britain. It will be a huge event for the UFC and set the tone for future events within continental Europe. Rumors of big fights like "Randy Couture vs. Antonio Nogueira" and "B.J. Penn vs. Kenny Florian" are being talked about.
This will be the third European fight card in 2009 and their tenth since 2007. Expect many more to follow.
Dana White has publicly said that the European market is currently not profitable but the organization is clearly banking on the future.
White has also said the UFC can succeed in Europe since 'fighting' sports have a universal appeal and do not require fans to study rule books. “Fighting is in our DNA,” he says. “We don’t need to know the rules.”
“The UFC sees a lot of potential for growth internationally,” said Adam Swift, the editor of mmapayout.com, a Web site devoted to the business of mixed martial arts. “Right now it’s more about laying the groundwork than fully realizing their gains.”
Lorenzo Fertitta, the chief executive of Zuffa, will be leading the charge. Fertitta is focusing on establishing the UFC’s global brand. Besides Europe, Zuffa eventually hopes to venture into the Philippines, Australia, India and Brazil, among other countries.
Some think the UFC will need to find only one local star in each country to make its live events successful. Georges St.-Pierre in Canada and Michael Bisping in Britain are viewed as local stars that have made the sport popular in their respective markets.
The UFC seems to be making a strong push to sign already established fighters from a myriad of countries.
The UFC is currently courting Alistair Overeem, a Dutch fighter with established name value. It already has popular Dutch fighter Martin Kampmann under contract. Kampmann recently made his welterweight debut at UFC 93. Martin previously fought at 185 lbs.
Could we see a UFC event in Holland in 2009 or 2010?
Other fighters such as Brandon Vera and Denis Kang were supposed to be a part of the “one local star” strategy.
Vera, a Filipino fighter, experienced early success inside the octagon. There was talk the UFC would put together a show in Vietnam. At one point, Vera claimed he would hold tiles in both the heavyweight and light heavyweight division. Neither of those claims have materialized and Vera has fallen on losing times as of late, diminishing his potential marketability.
As for Kang, the established MMA veteran recently made his UFC debut at UFC 93. Kang, of Korean-French decent, was brought in to be marketed to both countries. To the chagrin of the UFC brass, he lost his first fight inside the octagon and will now begin the rebuilding process.
Other European fighters currently under contract include: Great Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Armenia, Hungary, and Bosnia-Herzegovina
With the right efforts, the UFC will undoubtedly be successful in Europe as well as other global markets such Vera's Philippines and Kang's Korea. Don’t be surprised if we see a European version of The Ultimate Fighter at some point. It could be a great vehicle to attract talent and build up the popularity of the sport just like it did in the United States.
One major question to be answered is, “How many events can the UFC support between the U.S. and Europe combined?” In 2008, the UFC held 20 events.
How many more can the organization realistically put on?
The key will be the number of fighters they have and the percentage of those fighters they can successfully market. The UFC currently has over 180 fighters on its roster but it has been reported the UFC wants to reduce its roster to 140 over the course of the next several months.
Trimming the fat is always good business practice but the UFC will no doubt look to add to its stable of international fighters. Doing so will be critical in expanding into new markets.
It is not unrealistic that the UFC will segment their U.S and International operations at some point. Imagine a day when the UFC has both a U.S. light heavyweight champion and an International light heavyweight champion. They could co-promote a title fight to crown a true world champion.
While it may seem far fetched, the sky is the limit right now for the UFC. Imagine anything that makes good business sense and it is likely to happen at some point in the near future.