Make no mistake that the UFC is still a dominant and evolving global brand in sport, especially in key younger male demos that crave action and engagement. However like all large brands, there is a tendency from time to time to get caught in a routine of success without looking for more innovation or testing new boundaries. Now thankfully for the UFC their anxious followers won’t let them sit tight for very long, and if they do sit tight their followers can migrate to other things to keep them engaged, so the need not just for news ways to activate, but to also have new faces emerge is really important to keeping story lines, rivalries and the business flow fresh. That’s why “The Ultimate Fighter” still remains a key strategic point, and it’s why Chris Weidman’s surprise title last weekend was important for the brand going forward.
One of the inherent problems with marketing MMA is its unpredictability. Over the years, promotions have invested huge efforts into building a star, only to have someone come along with an expertise in one of the disciplines to unhinge the champion. That parity is something few sports have to deal with all the time…the ATP is probably a close second for not having predictable long term star power…so the UFC investment in recent years has been again on veterans and the careful matchmaking of rising stars.
Legend Anderson Silva was an established star with huge credibility in the MMA world but nit mega-marketing potential in the mainstream in the U.S. Polished and effective, Silva is a great fighter, but not someone who could be loved by English-speaking Madison Avenue. He also lacked a great deal of edge or controversy that some other mainstream brands could gravitate to. Is he a successful ambassador for the sport in emerging countries? Absolutely. Does he resonate with casual fans, especially with partners like Fox ? Not so much.
So now you have a new belt holder in Weidman. A former college wrestler with a passion to help that sport get back into the Olympics when their vote comes up in September gives him added gravitas. He has a strong bit not over the top personality, which will resonate with mainstream MMA fans. He is New York born, bred and educated, so there is a tie to marketing in and around big business. He also hails from one of the few states still yet to legalize MMA, so his presence and his reputation can help in lobbying as well. Add on his surprising KO of a champion, and the build that the UFC can now do with a tear-end rematch, and Weidman is a great fit to help the UFC re-engage and move forward yet again. Fans love a little controversy, they love undefeated (he is), and they love the hype of the rematch. Their new titleholder fits all those things.
For sure there is probably a little long term equity risk in investing in Weidman for some brands looking for long term planning. But for the short term it is all good news for the UFC, a brand which is rock solid but always in need to find what’s next in the marketplace.