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The UFC constitutes prime sponsorship real estate for any mainstream brand that seeks to target the specific, yet broad demographic of males aged between 18 and 35. The fan base, as Dana constantly reminds us, predominantly consists of this cohort.
By affiliating, and consequently aligning, one’s product or service with the UFC, a company virtually guarantees that it will reach nigh on millions of attentive MMA followers. It represents brand placement 101, successfully positioning a brand that is acutely aware of its customer segmentation (pardon the jargon, I studied towards a marketing degree at university).
UFC is the pinnacle of MMA, the organisation which most successfully markets and brands itself in a polished manner, and has very much achieved a high level of mainstream acceptance. Hence, similarly mainstream brands are no longer reticent to associate themselves with a sport that was once widely perceived to be “human cock fighting” (as John McCain tried to convince us a decade ago).
This negative stigma has been largely eradicated from this professional sport, and so the previous inherent risks from a brand perspective have been significantly reduced. It increasingly makes practical business sense for global brands to readily embrace the world’s fastest-growing sport in order to appear progressive.
Hey, but if you don’t trust my educated patter, then check this from Bob Stohrer, vice president of Marketing at Boost Mobile:
“The popularity of UFC has exploded during the past few years, solidifying its position as a mainstream competitive sport. This is an ideal partner for Boost as the sport aligns well with our competitive nature and will give our brand heightened visibility with UFC’s avid and growing fan base.”
Intuitively, even a UFC novice/layman would be able to conjecture as to a catalogue of sponsors that might choose to promote themselves through the conduit of MMA. I often eschew stereotyping, but let’s for one second just enumerate how the vast majority of lads between 18 and 35 (a bracket which includes myself) would ideally like to spend their pastime:
- Drinking alcohol or inordinately sugary energy drinks
- Playing computer games/gambling online
- Talking to/flirting with/looking at/touching attractive females
- Driving powerful vehicles (the ultimate boys toys)
- Participating in anything macho that may appeal to attractive females
- Watching/playing sports, ideally with other like-minded males
- Eating tasty (not necessarily healthy) food
So there you have it ladies; it probably isn’t a revelation to you that the male species is a rather simple creature, who generally seeks simple pleasures, otherwise known as base/carnal pleasures. Yes, of course we have developed as homo sapiens since the time of the Neanderthals, but these elements remain ingrained at our core.
As Dana, the quintessential alpha male will readily inform you, fighting is in our DNA, and that’s why we thrive on witnessing it. But we aren’t that one-dimensional. In fact, akin to MMA, us men are multi-faceted beings, since numerous other F’s (namely food, footy, friends, fun and females) occupy our thoughts in addition to fighting.
And sponsors do not solely approach the UFC organisation per se, but also the organisation’s employees themselves, the actual fighters. After all, these are (literally in some cases) the people’s champions, the heroes to the masses of MMA fans worldwide, so to attach a brand logo to their shorts is astute marketing. The innumerable companies that sponsor fighters is a veritable smorgasbord of androcentric brands, ranging from the likes of beef jerky to the Dolce Diet, the Gun Store to Condom Depot.com.
Discounting the multiple UFC self-branded products which are tirelessly endorsed throughout the airing of a live event (including UFC gyms, fitness games, console games, etc.), the top 11 sponsors for both the UFC and its fighters, in terms of memorability, would have to be:
Xyience...not necessarily the fuel of champions, but it tastes great
It’s positively “cool” in the modern world to blatantly misspell words, or synthesise them to the extent that the beloved English language becomes well and truly bastardised. It almost rebels against conventional language, and hence proves ever so slightly edgy. Her Majesty The Queen would certainly scoff at such spelling catastrophes, so it’s a good thing Elizabeth doesn’t watch the UFC. Well, I presume she doesn’t, anyway.
The fusion of “Extreme Science” into “Xyience” undoubtedly lends the product a more cutting-edge feel, even with the addition of a rogue “Y.” Did these cheeky supplement companies think that juice-heads wouldn’t notice?
The presence of the enigmatic “Y” facilitates the pronunciation of the word as we’d all struggle to get our heads, and mouths, around “Xience”. Furthermore, it may be interpreted as a subtle way of targeting males, with the XY chromosome signifying male gender (biology class throwback for you, there). It also halves the word from 4-syllbales to 2, which is perfect in a society that increasingly engenders laziness.
Xyience's marketing department could be slightly better-advised as to which fighters should spearhead their campaigns. Granted, Wanderlei, Hardy and Serra are all popular with the fans, but Xyience doesn't want to exclusively associate its product with fighters that are struggling. Or maybe it's an Xyience curse on the fighters?
Unfortunately, having muscles doesn't exempt you from being punched in the face
As with "Xyience," “Muscle Pharm” greatly adheres to this notion of “cool” parlance, with the “Pharm” showcasing an alternative permutation of “Farm.” Indeed, the Pharm is probably drawn from Russell Simmons’ hugely successful clothing line “Phat Farm,” by amalgamating the words, with kids adopting “phat” as a synonym of “cool” nowadays. Also (I may be reading into this too deeply), the Ph of “pharm” potentially implies that this product is medically approved, but that would constitute a subliminal message.
"Yes, I know we said 'have it your way' Roy, but 8 beef patties just isn't feasible"
A healthy supplement neatly segues onto “el rey de hamburguesas,” as our Spanish friends might say. It was difficult not to be tickled by the sight of Roy Nelson standing over a Burger King logo, often rubbing furiously on his portly paunch having prevailed over yet another TUF 10 victim. The whole scenario was oxymoronic, with Nelson’s belly and the Burger King logo starkly contrasting with the health presupposed by one of the world’s most gruelling professional sports. For this brazenness alone, Burger King warrants a place in the list.
And furthermore, the $5,000 awarded to Nelson upon each victory was also slightly ironic, since there was a sense that Burger King was simply refunding “Big Country” for his unrivaled custom over the years.
"Hey, why not change your name to Dana & Buffer’s?"
Dave & Buster’s gets a shout-out under the same bracket as Burger King, since it is another chain restaurant sponsor of the UFC which isn’t adverse to the widespread distribution of saturated fats.
Interestingly, the history of D & B’s partly mirrors that of the UFC. Akin to the manner in which Messrs White and Fertitta acquired a failing business in the UFC, which they immediately rebranded and gradually converted it into a thriving company, so Dave & Buster’s bought out the “Jillian’s” chain before proceeding to rejuvenate and significantly expand. Aside from this commercial correlation, I also love the fact that the restaurants arrange screening rooms for every UFC pay-per-view and episode of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
"I believe the Lord put me on this earth to advertise guns"
As an Englishman, I find it fascinating that gun stores open to the public even exist, let alone that they can be endorsed by a mainstream organisation. Partaking in an afternoon’s shooting down at the Gun Store range seems all-the-rage for UFC fighters after gracing a sold-out arena on the famous LV strip, and visiting stag-dos tend to follow suit. After all, “When in Vegas.”
The Gun Store has been thinking laterally when it comes to advertising, with John Howard shaving their logo into his hair. Apparently, they wanted Shane Carwin to replicate this endorsement, but his lack of follicles proved a decisive obstacle.
And what next? I wonder if companies will become even more extreme by requesting that fighters tattoo a logo across their chest. Why, MMA is home to enough lunatics for this to be conceivable should a sizeable sum be offered to a fighter.
"Just hold it right there Mr.Boost mobile representative. You want me to actually speak to people on a phone"?
I like sponsors that are slightly more imaginative than the obvious marketing ruse of simply emblazoning their logo on the Octagon canvas.
We all know about the unparalleled accessibility and affability of professional MMA fighters. Indeed, you will be hard pushed to identify another global sport in which followers are permitted such an insight into its competing personalities. Boost Mobile intelligently tapped into this, granting the fans the opportunity to chat with their favorite fighters throughout Memorial Day weekend by dialing them up on their Boost Mobile Fan Phones, an example of the UFC transcending the call of duty to become even more readily interactive with the fans.
Boost also gets the whole “fan experience” thing, and consequently offers chances to win cageside seat upgrades for the PPV card fights, the kind of request directed towards Dana on at least 10 occasions during any Fight Club Q&A session in which he is involved.
"Harley Davidson, the only motorcycle worthy of being in the Octagon" (disclaimer—until we receive a better offer)
Goldie utters such a myriad of straplines during a single broadcast that one almost becomes oblivious to them, especially if you happen to be partaking in the “Mike Goldberg” drinking game. The marketing pragmatism of the UFC almost verges on the preposterous. We have the Harley Davidson “prep point,” where the fighters are frisked for harmful objects (it always astounds me how Tito’s giant head gains entry into the Octagon without further inspection). Then of course there is the Tale of the Tape, over which sponsors probably bid since this is a time during which the PPViewers will be particularly attentive, and the pre-fight montage in which the fighters bob around like Clay Guida at a Zumba convention is often accompanied by a message from the Marines.
The point is, where will Dana draw the line? Will Goldie soon be informing us that GSP’s first take-down of the evening was presented by Vaseline? Or that Bruce Buffer is projecting his veteran voice through the "Burger King" microphone?
Also, the UFC-HD tagline is flawed on so many levels. “The only motorcycle worthy of being in the Octagon.” Even though HD doesn’t intend for people to take the statement literally, it remains rather misleading. An HD would never actually be allowed inside the Octagon. Somewhere in the official rulebook, probably alongside “no small-joint manipulation,” it must also mention “no motorised vehicles" inside the cage. Though, to be fair, a Harley may have been the only way Randy was ever going to catch Lyoto. And another thing, if Honda offered double what HD are currently shelling out, I’m sure Dana would quickly reassess his definition of “worthiness.”
"Even the packet tastes like prime rib after a workout"
For me personally, the thought of beef jerky always conjures up the image of Brock Lesnar, and not just because the guy is a beefy jerk. It’s primarily because Jack Link’s is plastered all over Brock’s XXXXXL t-shirt, with that logo image which always reminds me of the end of a marker pen.
And what better way to reach its target audience of barbaric, carnivorous savages than through UFC goliath Brock Lesnar? This is a man who consumed so much meat that, according to medical staff, it actually may have contributed to the creation of an intestinal perforation, leading onto diverticulitis. The marketing department over at Jack Link’s really should pay Brock a more handsome fee to actually be chomping on a packet of jerky as he makes his way to the cage, for maximum messaging impact.
What’s perfect about Beef Jerky is that it’s a surprisingly healthy snack, particularly for athletic types. It’s low in calories, fat and carbs, yet high in protein. The Beef Jerky brand men evidently picked up on this fact, and now heavily base promotion on its nutritional value. So, following logic, I’m guessing that the Dolce Diet endorses it.
“They guaranteed me 100 more free condoms per takedown”
We’ve all seen the photos. Tough guys in the cage adorning a CondomDepot.com logo on the rear of their shorts. Maybe Ashton Kutcher designs fighters’ shorts and thought it’d be hilarious to “punk” them in this way. It hardly does anything to deter the homophobic slurs levelled against a sport that boasts nut-hugger shorts, “the rear naked choke” manoeuvre and Nick “On A Promise” Ring. Really, it would appear that MMA does little to dispel the “gay wrestlers” myth.
Whilst the product placement was rather unfortunate, it was a sponsor which showed the UFC in a positive light as an organisation that’s willing to publicly tackle sensitive social issues through its advertising. As a sport, Dana has gradually regulated and sanctioned MMA to ensure that it becomes as safe as possible for its competitors, and so marketing the “safe sex” message seemed congruent. That was, of course, until Dana inexplicably banned the contraceptive company, leading CondomDepot.com marketing director Jennifer Amato to label Mr.White as classless. One thing’s for certain: Dana isn’t getting lucky any time soon with Mrs. Amato. And that’s a shame, because you’d presume she always arrives fully stocked and ready to roll.
Bud Light, Brock Lesnar... they even share the same initials
As an avid UFC fanatic, it’s nigh on impossible to avoid the bombardment of “Bud Light” visuals pre-, mid- and post- a UFC event. And given the extortionate amount they more than likely fork out for the privilege of being the organisation’s principal sponsor, it’d be their commercial right to do so. In fact, so ubiquitous is that “Bud Lite” logo that during the buildup to a major UFC event that I often dream about soaking in a bath full of Bud Lite (you know you do the same). When a sponsor begins to penetrate your subconscious psyche, that's when you know you are obsessed with the sport.
And if truth be told, unlike Brock Lesnar, I don’t even like the stuff. What I do like is the thought of an H2O brand sponsoring the UFC. Given that the Octagon girls wore light green to symbolize the lime twist in sponsor Bud Light, does this signify that the ladies will sport transparent attire should the UFC ever be endorsed by a water company? Just a thought…
Whilst I’m still not a massive fan of any MMA attire per se, it’s hard to overlook TapouT’s superior branding, its colourful owners, and its endearing brand history.
What’s more, TapouT is the granddaddy/pioneer of MMA sartorial “chic.” It is the clothing brand most synonymous with the UFC and unquestionably boasts the most charismatic triumvirate of owners. They are revered by most simply because they’ve been around since near the very beginning, and plus, they were initially one of the sole sponsorships helping the fighters make a living. For their belief in and loyalty to the sport, they warrant top spot.
Unfortunately, Charles “Mask” Lewis passed in ‘09, yet this seems to have only added to the appreciation of the apparel, and has firmly engraved the brand into the pantheon of MMA folklore forevermore. As a tribute to his contributions to the UFC, “Mask” himself was posthumously inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July 2009, becoming the first and only non-fighting HOFer. Furthermore, in 2010, Lewis was featured in the video game “UFC 2010 Undisputed” for a second time.