If you are an MMA fan in the Northeast, you have been having a good week. First came the statement by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that he is moving closer to legalizing the sport in the state. This will open up opportunities for events not just in places like Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, but in casinos and smaller venues in places like Syracuse and Buffalo.
Then came more mainstream acceptance when two of the UFC’s top names—middleweight champion Anderson Silva and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre—cracked the Bloomberg/Horrow Sports Ventures “Power 100” of the most powerful athletes on-and-off-the-field. St-Pierre, now fully recovered from an injury which sidelined him for almost a year and facing Nick Diaz this weekend, came in at No. 62, while Silva cracked the list for the first time at No. 97. St-Pierre’s debut on the list has him ahead of rising stars like Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and not far behind the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony who is at No. 57. St-Pierre is one of the highest ranked non-Olympians on the list for the first time.
“There is no doubt that the drawing power of MMA athletes is tremendous, and I would expect in the coming years to see more and more of the top guys, and even a female, push higher on the list,” said Chris Lencheski, CEO of Philadelphia based Front Row Marketing, one of the nation’s leading and fastest growing sports marketing and branding firms. “The MMA athlete of today has so many pieces that are attractive to marketers—they still have that everyman story—and I believe that will continue to grow. While the younger demo is well aware of the sport, it is obvious that a more mature fan base is also growing and that is where the sport will make its next jump.”
The Power 100 rankings are based 50 percent on these on "off-field" measurements, and 50 percent on "on-field" performance using a variety of industry statistics. CSE used proprietary analytic measurements to create a true comprehensive analysis of the athletes, exploring data that is both psychographic and endemic to the various sports. Along with athletic performance, the methodology took into account endorsements, social media, and fan touch points including trustworthiness, likability, and awareness.
Overall, the Power 100 is topped by the Miami Heat’s LeBron James (No. 1), golfer Tiger Woods (No. 2) and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (No. 3). Social media also plays an increasing role in defining an athlete’s brand and marketability, giving a measurable boost to such athletes as James (No. 1), Kobe Bryant (No. 7) and Rory McIlroy (No. 14).
With more women on the list this year, many officials would not be surprised to have Ronda Rousey crack through next year based on the massive start she had in the last few months. Although some followers of MMA, especially the UFC, may balk at the fact that there aren’t more stars on the list, it is still a clear sign that the sport is growing in the mainstream.
That the Octagon’s biggest stars are gaining more and more space with “traditional” athletes is also heartening to the sport's followers. This list and the coming announcement from New York are two more positive steps for both fans and those in the business of MMA.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first-hand.