How the UFC Can Turn Casual Fans into Hardcore Fans
The UFC will always try to improve their product.
From free fights, to signing the best athletes in the world; the company has done its very best in promoting the sport of mixed martial arts in American culture.
But with already popular entities like the NFL, MLB, NBA and boxing commanding the limited spotlight, it's often hard for the UFC to attract "serious" fans.
Sure, you'll have those MMA followers that will drive to their friend's house to watch Anderson Silva fight, but how many of those casual onlookers can accurately tell you who Michael McDonald and Dave Herman are?
Not a lot. That's why the UFC needs to revamp their efforts in attracting "hardcore" fans. Not only to help gross revenue, but to maintain a desirable fanbase that will help the sport grow over the next 20 years.
Here's how you do it:
5. Diminish All Comparisons to Boxing
It's plain and simple: MMA is not boxing. And boxing is not MMA.
The UFC needs to remember this simple equation. By continuously entertaining the notion that somehow these two sports are "similar" or "competing," MMA is exhausting many outlets across America.
Sure, many boxing fans would never find themselves watching UFC fights or talking about MMA in a favorable light, but there are some hardcore boxing fans that welcome the other half into their homes.
However, there's a problem:
These fans find themselves often torn between the two sports. Chalk it up to the media, or the misunderstood implication that if you're pro-boxing, then you must be anti-MMA.
In order to sustain their popularity and reach a broader spectrum of combat sports fans, the UFC needs to diminish anything and everything related to boxing. They're two different sports. You don't see NFL owners comparing their quarterbacks to MLB starting pitchers, do you?
The fact of the matter is that this age old battle between a sport of punching and a sport of fighting isn't really a battle. Boxing and the UFC are not rival companies within the same sport.
If the UFC can detach itself entirely from the world of boxing, they may be able to attract some of those fans that would otherwise say no, strictly on the basis of sport loyalty.
4. Marketing the Right Fighters
First of all, kudos to the UFC for signing the best of the best around the world. Their recent acquisitions of Alistair Overeem, Nick Diaz, Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Silva will surely make the sport more recognizable worldwide.
But for some reason, I feel like the company hasn't done its very best at securing the futures of their most promotable fighters. More specifically, Jon Jones and Jose Aldo.
Jones and Aldo are by the far the best pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC who are going to be around for the next 10 years. The UFC needs to focus all their attention on these type of fighters for two reasons:
One being the fact that they're that damn good. There's a reason why both of these guys have titles, and there's a reason why they win so often. The UFC needs to do everything they can, as far as promotion is concerned, to make sure casual fans know who's the best in the world.
The second reason is fairly simple. Casual fans that watch the sport today tune in to watch fights that involve these young champions. If there's anyone who can increase viewership and escort low-key fans to the wide world of MMA over the next five years, it's Jones and Aldo.
For the fans that are just starting to watch the sport today, it makes sense for the UFC to do everything it can in order to make sure these MMA followers have athletes in the future that they can relate to.
3. Offering More Free Content
Whether it's the UFC, NFL, MLB or NBA, fans love free stuff. More so, they love when their favorite sport airs something for free that would usually cost $44.99.
That's the boat that many MMA fans are currently in regarding the recent broadcast exploitation that the UFC has utilized.
In the past it had just been a few free fight nights here and there on Spike, but now the UFC has stepped their game up. A recent seven-year deal with FOX has launched the UFC into the homes of the most casual fans possible.
Honestly, there's probably a handful of people that tuned into UFC on FOX 2 just because they were drawn in, mid-channel surf.
Regardless, any way the UFC can get more content to the mainstream public, free content to boot, is as good as it gets. Hell, isn't that their motto?
In the future, in order to showcase fights to the general public and not force "on the fence" fans to empty their bank accounts to rent a PPV and see what all the hype is about, the UFC should offer free content as much as possible.
Obviously, they need to make money, but instead of having two PPV events a month, why not have one and air the other on FOX, FX or Fuel TV. Better yet, they could do a buy one, get one free deal for fans in need of some sort of financial reassurance when it comes to paying for fights.
2. Gaining Mainstream Media Access
The biggest way the UFC can expand its product, and gain more loyal fans, is by somehow gaining more diverse access to mainstream media.
They've already utilized Facebook's global popularity by airing preliminaries fights on the information juggernaut. By doing this, the UFC has attracted more fans to the sport, diehard or casual. This process has helped the sport evolve in ways that were once unimaginable.
However, when trying to compete with other American sports for fan attention and gross revenue, airing fights on the internet doesn't cut it. The UFC has to implement a different plan.
That plan, which needs to happen as soon as possible, revolves around the company joining forces with ESPN. Yes, ESPN.
The UFC and ESPN have battled in the past. Some say it's the UFC's inability to "concede" to ESPN's universal demands. Others say it's the fact that ESPN backs boxing, instead of the fastest growing sport in the world.
Regardless of who's at fault, and which way fingers should be pointed, the bottom line is that ESPN holds the key to the future for the UFC. By becoming a mainstay on their network, MMA is bound to explode more rapidly than it already has.
When's the last time you saw SportsCenter showcase more than one fight from a UFC event? Exactly. And when they do, it has to be one of those legendary battles just to make the cut.
The point here is that without ESPN, the beneficiary of everything sports related, the UFC is not giving itself a fair shake against other mainstream sports. With more access comes more acknowledgment. And with more acknowledgment comes more fans.
Diehard fans at that.
1. Keep Doing What They're Doing
Quite frankly, beyond everything the UFC should be doing, the stuff they've already pulled off, or are in the midst of creating, should serve as a perfect jumping off point in order to attract more hardcore fans.
MMA is one of the biggest sports worldwide, probably second to soccer, so implementing promotional schemes to reap the sport's benefits in a hungry market like America doesn't seem too difficult.
The UFC, more specifically president Dana White and owner Lorenzo Fertitta, have done their very best at scouting the sports market and promoting their company in the most reasonable outlets. And while their efforts don't stack up against the bigger sports initially, it's bound to happen.
Simply put, the UFC's emergence into mainstream media, the top sports in the country and its attraction to more fans is no less inevitable than the sun rising tomorrow morning.
So beyond everything that the UFC has yet to accomplish, including but not limited to, an eventual friendship with ESPN and boxing, the world's largest MMA promoter arguably has nothing to worry about.
The UFC already has a massive fanbase, whether you consider the fans that scream at their television screens hardcore or not. But to categorize, or better yet scold, the UFC for not producing more loyal fans seems ignorant.
I know this article was about how the company can make diehard fans out of casual ones, but honestly, it's easier said than done. People are going to watch what they want, and spend money when they have it.
The UFC simply has to sit back, promote the way it has been, wait for people to catch on when boxing dies out and welcome ESPN with open arms when their brains start working.
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