Dana White | Sports Marketing & PR Roundup

UFC Takes Its Brand Punch, Re-Emerges Stronger Than Ever Going Into 2014…

It was a night that maybe in other years would have sent the UFC leadership scurrying for new spin. There was their vaunted former champion, Anderson Silva, screaming with a horrific broken leg; night over, maybe career over. It comes just a few weeks after another of the promotion’s biggest stars, Georges St. Pierre, announced his unexpected retirement. In a business where pay per view is a life blood those two names disappearing could be really tough to overcome.

However this is the UFC of 2013-14, and the results from a Saturday night card give more insight into what the future may be than the past. First you have Ronda Rousey, the promotion’s marketing darling with Danica Patrick-like drawing power (and unlike Patrick, results to back it up), not just winning, but winning a match that went longer than expected (giving hope that women’s MMA for those who like it, is becoming deeper) and immediately announcing her next match against a former Olympic wrestler, Sara McMann, already fueling hype, sales and probably an even broader audience.

Then you have the defending champion, somewhat of a surprise, in Chris Weidman, now having beaten Silva twice, and if you are the UFC looking at an American audience you have to be somewhat pleased with the marketing potential of a college educated, well spoken, community-oriented star from the one market you still cannot compete in; New York.

There is no doubt that as a worldwide property the UFC is still a dominant and evolving brand, especially in key younger male demos that crave action and engagement.  They have continued to look globally for more dollars and engagement, and they saw that success in 2013. In the U.S. however, the brand has hot a bit of a stagnation point, and new stars, new stories, and some new controversies are what was needed, and the end of 2013 seems to have provided all. The promotion’s deal with Fox Sports has steadily grown but has not really provided the mega-brand push that some had predicted right away, however the wall to wall coverage Saturday that ESPN provided to augment the Fox coverage again showed how much star power UFC has now and will continue to develop with its new stars on the rise.

Silva was an established star with huge credibility in the MMA world but not 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. Was he a successful ambassador for the sport in emerging countries? Absolutely. Does he resonate with casual fans? Not so much and that’s maybe where Weidman now steps in more, along with established names and personalities like Rashard Evans.

So now you have a solid belt holder in Weidman. A former college wrestler with a passion to help that sport grow gives him added gravitas. He has a strong but 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.  Add on his two surprising wins over a legendary champion, and the build that the UFC can now do around him for 2014 and marketers should breathe a little easier about engaging with the promotion, and maybe even enhancing their investment with such a mature and social savvy company like UFC in the USA.

By the way on the marketing side, how savvy is Rousey? Less than four hour s after her title defense she was on twitter plugging one of her sponsors, Metro-PCS, in a contest giveaway. Of course it was planned in advance, but many an athlete would take a step back rather than attack after any kind of performance, and the beauty of social media made the MMA star a business star yet again.

The business of MMA, be it UFC or even its best competitor in Bellator, still has its issues with violence which do not make it a fit for many. However for an audience that craves action and engagement UFC is again proving that it has taken a punch and is even stronger on its feet than before, and in its home country having marketable American stars going into a new year is a great help.

Weidman’s Win Lifts The UFC Tide…

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.        

Can The UFC Take A Page From The WWE For A New York Brand Win?

Two weeks ago the WWE was everywhere and anywhere in the New York Area as Wrestlemania became the lynchpin for all things about the brand. Community projects, brand partnerships, education news, appearances on Wall Street, meet and greets with celebrities, panels on broadcasting, economic viability studies…you name it the WWE rolled it out as they headed up and through their record-setting event at Met Life Stadium, with over 80,000 turning out in what was a good model for testing the limits and challenges for next year’s Super Bowl.

 This week another vibrant brand this one in a cage not a ring, will roll into the area looking to showcase all its marketing muscle and extol its virtues to Madison Avenue, Wall Street and to the seat of government in New York State in Albany. It is the UFC’s chance to sell itself even larger, with a mega-card and pay per view at the Prudential Center in Newark. Athletes, ring card girls, organizational head Dana White as well as a host of athletes talking up the brand even as the NFL Draft descends on Gotham this week as well. The challenges for both the UFC and the WWE similar in many regards…they are both testosterone driven entertainment, which use cable and broadcast TV to fuel very lucrative pay per view events. They have engaging stars and storylines and a charismatic leader as the face of the company. They have been dogged in their use of social media to engage fans, and their events have worldwide appeal especially in a demo, the young male early adopter, that many traditional sports and entertainment events find elusive. The two brands also struggle with critics who say they are too violent, too misogynistic and are part of a continued dumbing down of society. 

 There are also some distinct differences between the two. The WWE is a publicly traded company, the UFC is privately held. The UFC is real sport, the WWE is pure entertainment. And for the UFC, the WWE is allowed to hold events in the State of New York, while professional MMA remains outlawed in New York. Wrestlemania could always return to Madison Square Garden, while the UFC still awaits the day when it could call MSG or The Barclays Center or The First Niagara Center or any upstate casino home.

 New Jersey meanwhile has thrived as a focal point for legal MMA both large and small, and will welcome the UFC back this week. However in the midst of all the events, the expo of goods, the sponsor in store autograph signings will be a look by all at Albany with the continued message that the UFC and its larger competitors have done all that has been asked to make the sport OK in New York, like it is in a majority of the country and around the world. What will all that glad-handing and lobbying do for the brand? It will probably help push some consumer brands still reticent to engage off the fence and into the sport, especially if ad decision makers can go down 6th Avenue to see an event without crossing a river. It will also help open more key venues and raise competition for large scale shows, which will help the bottom line for the UFC or a promotion like Bellator, which is the industry’s number two promotion.

The drumbeat for next Saturday has already begin, with appearances UFC athletes in a number of places, including the booth for Saturday’s Mets-Nationals game on FOX. While much of that talk was about tune in for the live event that was on Fox Saturday night, the message to a national audience about the New York issue was spelled out pretty clearly and articulately be UFC fighter Uriah Hall. It was simple…we are mainstream, we are legit, we can deliver a product and we can help New York.

The lack of pushback by anyone on Wrestlemania should serve as a good template for what the UFC could do as they return to the New York area this week. It was big time glitz, big time promotion and all clear messaging. It helped lift the brand of the WWE on all fronts, and a similar effort can help float the rising tide of the UFC, one which still needs a little push to win their fight in The Big Apple.

Mixed Martial Arts Winning A Perception Fight…

If you have been to New York’s Times Square in the last five or six years toy would have seen it, the billboard towering over the Marriott Marquis. Amidst the glowing brand ads throughout the square and the endless video displays is the huge promotion board for the UFC, always telling the tale of their next upcoming pay per view. Every big name in the sport has been featured on the billboard as their event came and went, a constant reminder to everyone that the largest Mixed Martial Arts promotion is alive and growing around the world. Except of course in New York, where the sport remains illegal, one of the few states in the U.S. where professional MMA cannot be held.

However that long battle may soon end, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated this week that he is now open to having the sport legalized in New York, which can open the doors even more for Madison Avenue and others to ramp up their support of MMA. Why and how is this move important for the UFC and other promotions like Spike’s Bellator brand? Simple. There are few sports as experiential as professional MMA for the fan, and as close as New Jersey is, it is still not New York for companies who want to engage in the brand, and an OK in New York will boost the image, and the marketing appeal beyond what it currently is.

Now the legalization move won’t mean that suddenly the Nets at the Barclay’s Center or the Knicks and Rangers at Madison Square Garden are going to suddenly be cast out for cage fighting. In reality, the move will help the State’s casinos upstate even more that the large facilities in New York. Those smaller venues can host profitable smaller promotions that will draw a younger demo into their gambling establishments more consistently. For companies like Fox, the UFC broadcast partner, and Spike, the Bellator broadcast partner, it will give a chance to showcase an elite event a few times a year right down the street from where its main advertisers live and work. It will also provide a new backdrop for the programmers reality shows on the sport, should they choose to use it.  The use of New York as a marketing tool is certainly not new for the sport…like NASCAR and recently Major League Soccer, the UFC and Bellator have brought their athletes into New York for press events and trainings. Now they can deliver the complete package to the Big Apple, probably helping erase some of the doubt of brands that are still on the fence about the sport. No longer will they say…if it’s so hot why can’t you compete here in New York. It is one less objection to battle, and more legitimacy for the sport.

Is the change potentially in New York the be all and end all for the sport? No. Does it mean that suddenly promoters and fighters will have a huge new stream of get rich quick cash? No. Events are still expensive to produce and will be very carefully regulated. However for the promotions like the UFC and Bellator potentially, the legalization in New York is a big win in perception and value, and a nice next step for their business, whether you like fighting or not.

Bowling and Brawling, Thoughts For The Weekend…

We arrive in the middle of November and as NCAA hoops tips off and football hits its stride some thoughts…

Nice Try, Bowling: Even with its ESPN presence, bowling hasn’t had much of a wow factor in years. The latest try is professional team bowling, city vs. city, in addition to the traditional tour. The thought, like other individual sports have tried, is that casual fans may have an interest in rooting for the guys and women from their cities, or at least their teams. Ok, but how do you draw with it, or at least get some additional buzz? Celebrity owners who bowl. So the PBA announced that Chris Paul, Jerome Bettis,  Terrell Owens and Kris Hart have become “celebrity owners” of teams. All love bowling and have agreed to participate in promotions and other competitions to help the league. Nice idea, and the guys will probably have a nice equity stake if the thing takes off but… The PBA has tried lots of things…rivalries, outdoor bowling, different scoring, million dollar purses etc etc over the year. Not much has resonated in bringing in casual fans. Now professional teams have used bowling for charity events for years with great success, and inner-city bowling centers, built up in buildings, not out, have become reasonably successful in recent years.

Chasing celebrity is certainly worth a shot for the PBA. Bowling is a fun casual game which is probably under appreciated. Other sports who have tried teams and celebrity have never really succeeded, so there’s really no formula which would lead anyone to believe that thousands are going to start showing up in bowling centers to watch pro bowling or to follow “celebrities.” It hasn’t succeeded in sports from MMA to boxing to golf to volleyball, but if bowling can make a team concept work without great loss of dollars, great.

Does MMA Need A Hertz? This week the rumors got louder that Strikeforce, one of the best well run regional professional Mixed Martial Arts promotions; will fold their tent in January after a long run in the business. The company, based in Northern California, was purchased by Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC last year, and will now be the latest MMA brand acquired by the UFC to go out of business. Strikeforce follows Pride, the World Fighting Alliance and World Extreme Cagefighting as brands that were strong on their own, were absorbed into the UFC and then disappeared. It also comes at a time when the UFC has expanded even more into Asia and is now bringing Ronda Rousey, a Strikeforce champion in as their first ever female fighter, something UFC head Dana White had said for years would never happen (Female fighters in the UFC).

There are many who feel that the professional side of MMA in the U.S. will plateau without a competing promotion to drive interest. Yet others say like the NFL, there is no need for a major second promotion when the UFC fills the bill. Sure there are smaller regional promotions that do well but does the demise of Strikeforce mean that the market is a one trick pony now more than ever…UFC or nothing?

We shall find out more in the coming months when The Bellator Fighting Championships, easily the number two national promotion now, will push forward with their new deal on Spike TV, the network that helped make the UFC before the promotion departed for  FUEL. Bellator has made its name with a tournament style competition in mid-sized arenas and has worked hard to embrace all areas of MMA fandom. What will the market, sponsors and fans tell the sport through TV ratings, attendance and brands? Is the UFC enough or is there a national market for a competitor for the long haul. The late Jay Larkin, who ran Showtime’s boxing division when it was at its peak, always said the the Showtime/HBO rivalry was best for the sport of boxing, because it forced both companies to push the other to be successful. HBO was Avis, which drove Showtime like Hertz, using the metaphor from the car rental companies. Without that push, the industry and the competition become stale.

Will that be true for professional MMA? The fight really begins in January.

The Troops Still Remain A Largely Untapped Platform…

As Memorial Day is upon us here in the States, it is interesting to take a quick look at a group that is passionate, young, loyal, appreciative, athletic, budget conscious and enthusiastic, yet is among one of the most underserved groups for brands looking to reach the male demo and grow a fan base…the men and women of the military. While the Federal Government recently announced a big cutback in sports spending on recruiting advertising (over $80 million affecting properties like fishing and NASCAR at first), it remains a mystery as to why many brands looking for that young active male demo don’t go right to the bases and places where these loyal families and “captive” audiences sit. Armed Forces Radio and TV remains a very fertile and cost efficient ground for sports brands to reach a loyal audience, and bases are always looking for programs to keep the troops and their families busy and connected to mainstream America. More importantly, these groups, once discharged, remain very loyal to those who supported them while serving their country, with NASCAR-like brand buying and affinity. So why don’t more brands look to use sports to activate with the troop. Is it because of the perception of Red Tape? The sometimes transient nature of the military and their families? Neither are clear but for those brands who can figure it out, the captive audience waiting to attach to their products, services and even teams as potential viewers and ticket buyers, is huge. Now there are a number of strong programs that serve as one-offs for honoring military men and women once at the game to give them and their families a chance to attend events. Camoflage Kids is one great one, and on Memorial Day MLB will have a series of ceremonies at all games, but those are all outbound programs once these young people are on site. Brands should look to base activation programs, tied to sports, to really make a sound investment.

Now virtually every sports property honors a local vet during a break in play. Those moments are inspirational for sure. Some teams have set about hiring programs for those returning in droves from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. All good. However sustaining programs that support the military and their families at the core rather than just a base visit here or there is really what would be unique. It may not sell huge amounts of tickets at first, but the word of mouth amongst the military is very powerful, and the legacy built in for what will be a long future of a solid fan base or a consumer alliance is probably well worth the initial investment. Several lifestyle sports…NASCAR, the UFC, Ironman…have done a good job with putting their brand with the core of the military. Finding a brand to activate with that sport is still not easy though, but combining that powerful sports brand with a solid consumer program is something that is worth cracking as we hopefully move toward more troops coming back to the States and entering civilian life.

Does The UFC Really Need New York?

On May 5, a stones throw from the Empire State building, Jim Miller will battle Nate Diaz before a packed house over close to 15,000 and a national television audience in the latest UFC event to hit the New York area. it will have the hope, the hype and lots of hometown flair, especially for the New Jersey born Miller, another successful event for Zuffa around the Apple. Billboards and bars throughout Manhattan and the five boroughs will push the event, and a good time will be had by all, from brand partners to fans, celebrating another step forward for the UFC, if not for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

In and around the event, the UFC brand will look to break records in other venues, from Stockholm to Atlanta, where Rashard Evans and John Jones will meet in what will be another landoffice success for all things UFC. Merch will fly off shelves, trash will be talked, and the south will get its strong dose of a huge crowd to keep the MMA Bandwagon going. So with all that great news, what’s the problem?

The problem remains that the MMA is still not legal in New York State, and despite the fact that the May event will be in the area, it will be at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, not Madison Square Garden. Jones even voiced his disappointment this past week about the lack of UFC in New York, saying that he had hoped that his Evans fight would have been the first in The Apple. So despite grassroots efforts, hard lobbying and talk by athletes, New York remains steadfast in their lack of interest in legalized MMA. Now the fight against the fight is becoming less for sure, especially with politicians changing seats and a national election coming in November, but the question remains, does it really matter in the growth of the sport to have the UFC on Broadway?

Some supporters talk to “millions” in revenue for the state if MMA becomes legalized, but the truth is the biggest money making events would be limited to one or two a year, probably between the new Barclay’s Center and the Garden, with another one landing in Buffalo at some point, or maybe the cavernous Carrier Dome. MMA from the gym side does very well already in New York, as the home base for star trainers like Renzo Gracie. Sure smaller shows, all with minimal gates and purses and stars, would pop up and have to be regulated, but the UFC would not suddenly gain billions with legal MMA in New York. What it would get is the perception of becoming more mainstream, which could open the coffers of additional brand dollars from Madison Avenue which may be less averse with an OK from Governor Cuomo’s office. It would be another chip that Zuffa could claim, much like their FOX deal, to move the business of the UFC forward, one less objection to battle.

Now is there any fan who would not make the trip, especially now with public transportation available like never before, across the river to see the UFC just because it is in New Jersey? Are there really politicians, with all that is going on in government, who would suddenly make legalizing MMA in New York a priority? The answer is probably no.

Dos the UFC deserve to bring their business to New York? Yes. They have done all that has been asked and then some, and legalizing the sport would remove one more stigma for those who support, and probably bring a few casual fans on board. However without legalization, the UFC and some others have done well in venues like the Prudential Center and the IZOD Center and to some degree in Atlantic City all on their own, and that should continue in May.

Sometimes it is true that perception leads to reality, and maybe the reality of legalization in New York will change the perception of millions to suddenly enjoy a sport they really didn’t care for. However more likely is the fact that the UFC wll continue to thrive in the key male demo without New York. Either way fans will get their fill in the area come May, even if it is just across the river. If that changes in the future, great. If not, the show goes on elsewhere.

Fire In A Box, Wings In A Bowl, Fighting In Vegas, Packers Everywhere…

So here we are at Super Bowl Weekend, hopefully they will play the game at some point soon. We wanted to take a little respite and point out some innovative events worth a pop away from the Giants and Packers…

The Fire Score With Quaker Oats: Now the venerable Quaker Oats brand, a Division of PepsiCo, is never going to set the world on fire with cutting edge technology or over the top sponsorship explosions. They are who they are…a trusted, solid, essential, dedicated brand. However as good brands do, they can be innovative in presentation. So how did Quaker Oats and the Chicago Fire of MLS team up to announce their partnership? The old fashioned way…with an innovative call to action MAILED to media. The Fire sent out Quaker Oats custom designed oversized boxes packed with goodies, a release and a customized Fire jersey (with the Quaker Oats brand across the front) to several hundred sports, soccer-specific and trade media announcing their deal as official Breakfast Foods & Nutritious Snacks Partner of the Chicago Fire. The package was neat, effective and easy to understand at a time when promotions are all about digital complexity. It has tremendous shelf life and showed that the Fire and Quaker Oats took the time to understand and think about each member. Big headlines for the announcement? No. Great brand statement that will foster future coverage? Absolutely. Money well spent by a team looking to cut through the clutter.

The Wing Bowl Grows: It started as a small radio promotion 20 years ago, but Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl has grown into an entertainment event that rivals any niche promotion anywhere. This year’s event drew 20,000 followers and saw Takeru Kobayashi break the world record for wing eating in front of a crowd made up of radio promotional guests, competitive eating fans and a porn star or two just for flavor. The event now garners international coverage with stars like Kobayashi, the king of competitive eating, and also has a great give-back element with food and dollars raised to feed the homeless of Philadelphia. A great tent pole event for Sports Radio WIP in Philly to kick off Super Bowl weekend.

UFC Capitalizes on A Super Week: It has been a great brand building week for the UFC. Starting last Saturday, when the promotion scored solid numbers for the second show on FOX through this week with their annual Saturday night event in Las Vegas, the UFC again showed that they know how to grab the spotlight and effectively engage their fans. This weekend is one of the busiest in Vegas (behind only March Madness opening weekend), as thousands flock to the Strip to bet on all things around the Super Bowl. The UFC has made the weekend one of its signature nights, taking advantage of the night before the game to launch brand extensions and new business as well as a solid pay-per-view card, capturing the casual fan who is in town to have fun leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl. They need no ties directly to the NFL to draw eyeballs and attention, and use their marketing power to effectively own late night right before the Super Bowl kicks off. Like Wing Bowl in Philly, owning Vegas with a signature event gives the UFC another tentpole to build around every year for a brand which controls the marketplace and shows few signs of slowing down.

The Packers Are Stars Without Playing: Few teams have ever taken better advantage of not playing in the Super Bowl than the Green Bay Packers. despite their loss to the Giants, Green Bay players are still stars in the growing marketing world off the field. A look around this week saw Clay Matthews popping up on Ellen and smooching with Rosie O’Donnell, Greg Jennings hosting the Maxim Party for Coke Zero and Aaron Rodgers talking about acting and more endorsements. The players and their management teams have done a great job of maximizing brand potential off last year’s win, their national exposure and their down time. While other players may have hid after a disappointing loss, the Packers are out in full force and projecting positive stories with some solid brands. All smart long term moves that don’t compromise what the team can and will do on the field.

And now, back to the game…

New Jersey Hedges Its Bets…

Lost on the national sports scene Tuesday night, amidst the rising scandal at Penn State and the NBA lockout non-news, was the vote by Garden Staters to legalize sports betting in the State if the Federal Ban on such activities can be overturned. Right now Nevada and its casinos remain king of legal sports books, with New Jersey and other states where other forms of casino gambling are legal remain on the outside. While it remains a long road to legalization, the overwhelming vote by the citizens of the state, a state with more professional teams in the area than any other place in the country, if not the world, could be a boon to a struggling state infrastructure which once relied heavily on the casino and racing industries for a large share of the tax dollars. With the economy changing, the emergence of casinos in other states, the change and decline in horse racing and the advances in multiple state lottery systems, those large scale streams of income have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Professional sports leagues will continue to lobby against a New Jersey sports book. Nevada, with no professional teams, is seen in many circles as almost a safe haven for sports betting. New Jersey, with not just the Jets, Giants, Nets and Devils but with all the Philly and New York teams in close proximity, could be seen by many as wrought with issues and potential corruption. Those on the ‘pro’ side of the gambling issue see those teams in proximity as a huge plus for dollars spent, hotels used, and taxes earned. There is also the issue of college sports gambling. Again Nevada, with the University of Nevada (in Reno) and UNLV as the state’s only Division I programs, has a small percentage of local college action that is not on the official sports book. New Jersey, between Rutgers, Monmouth, Seton Hall, St. Peter’s, even NJIT, and all the New York and Philly area schools, could again pose a larger issue for regulators. Boxing, king in Las Vegas, along with MMA, pull in large dollars. New Jersey could look to also re-raise that tide and appeal with large scale fight cards more than ever. So the debate will rage in, with lobbysts on both sides pleading their case.

From a sports branding standpoint, the dollars that could flow into the State, along with jobs and technology opportunities could be a windfall. Simulcasting has tried to keep race tracks moving along when meets have been shortened, in an attempt to bring more dollars in. a sports book at places like the Meadowlands and Monmouth would boost attendance, dollars and jobs. The flailing casinos in Atlantic City would get more interest, the ones doing well would drive their dollars upward. More dollars and more people mean larger brand spends and promotions in and around the tracks and casinos, which also lifts the bottom line. The casual dollars going elsewhere could now flow into a suffering local economy.

Would the worry of a criminal element or corruption come to be real for professional and collegiate sports? Nevada seems to have faired well with an increasing number of collegiate events, and the NBA All-Star Game did OK in the city. The biggest issue with Las Vegas not getting a team these days seems to be more economic than because of gambling…the base economy of tourism may not have the solid corporate base to support large numbers of suites that would need to be sold for large revenue. Yes, casinos would provide some of the seats to be filled, but in the end casinos want people in their casinos, not watching hoops or hockey. Rest assured, any sports book in New Jersey would be heavily scrutinized and regulated, with the leagues, especially the NFL, watching every step of the way.

New Jersey is not Nevada, and the lessons learned in the rise and fall of the casino industry has shown that. Las Vegas has re-invented itself time and again as a travel destination city, with gambling as the backdrop. Atlantic City has not. Would the sports book be the catch for all that ails the State? No. Would it be an intriguing partial answer for tourism and revenue? Probably. Would it cause more headaches to a state already with enough issues with corruption? Hard to tell. What about all those pro and college games in such proximity, would they all be off the board, which could curtail interest greatly? To Be Determined. One thing is clear though. The citizens of the state spoke pretty loudly Tuesday night, and they would like to place their bet on sports books to help raise revenue. If it can clear the federal hurdle, not an easy one by any stretch, it will certainly be an interesting sports business study to see how new age technology and old school sports wagering can re-invent themselves together in the Garden State, a bet that not too long ago continued to be a long shot, but one whose odds suddenly improved this week.

Can Bellator Play “Avis” To UFC’s “Hertz”

It has been a question for several years in the fight sport world. Is the market big enough in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts for more than one viable professional brand to exist alongside the UFC, or is it like professional football, where the NFL is king no matter what the market size and those who come along to share the pie get the pie thrown back in their face.

Many have come along to challenge, some with short but popular runs like the IFL and ProElite, many others with quick hit and miss challenges that spend large sums and never deliver anything. Others, like the WEC and Strikeforce, find their regional niche and eventually get swallowed up by the UFC dollars and muscle, well run promotions that cannot get to the next level without the partnership. All through the time, the UFC experience continues to mature and move out, now with its first network TV deal coming in a few weeks, an opportunity that some think will move the UFC, if not the sport, more into the “mainstream.” Whether that is a blessing or a curse for the UFC remains to be seen. However one prospect that has emerged recently is the still pushing nature of the Bellator Championship series, which has cultivated young up and coming fighters in its own events, packaged in mid-sized venues, and promoted regionally with the help of Fox Sports and other cable outlets. Bellator has been consistent with its brand and messaging, and has put on quality events that have caught the attention of fans.

Recently, Bellator seized an opportunity created when the UFC left Spike TV, which had been a key part of the brand growth with their co-partnership on “The Ultimate Fighter,” to take a position with Spike. That move, to a network of savvy marketers who know how to package, promote and deliver the MMA product to a make demo, will be a big test to see if the sport of professional MMA is finally ready for an alternative to the UFC production. Spike knows the sport, and the sport knows Spike, and Bellator presents an intriguing and affordable opportunity for television.

As a brand in MMA, Bellator has developed a good reputation. As a business they have shown they have a niche and a good business plan and can grow what they have created, not at the expense of the UFC but as a compliment to the UFC.
Whether the UFC can create enough white noise with programming on Fox or with partners to disrupt the Bellator plan remains to be seen. The promoters have found a way to deliver quality and consistency, and maybe with Spike can create a few more household names. If that leads to growth it is good for the sport, and some healthy competition could keep the UFC brand moving along even stronger.

Now if fans aren’t driven to a Ballator Spike relationship what does that say about the sport of MMA? maybe it means its still too soon for a still growing sport to be big enough with the casual fan to support two professional brands. Maybe it says the fans want UFC and not anything else on a large scale? Maybe it says that the “secret sauce” that made the UFC Spike relationship such a good one doesn’t mix in the chemistry of Spike and another brand in the sport. All of that will be revealed over time, but for now it is worth noting the growth Bellator has taken on, and what that could mean for the sport, is a step no others have been able to achieve for more than a few months, and it will be worth following to see what fight they will have as a brand. Healthy competition is not a bad thing.