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.

The Amazing Viral Power of The UFC

This past Thursday may have been one of the busiest sports days of the year in New York. The Mets hosted the Miami Marlins and their ex-star Jose Reyes, the Rangers and Devils played Game 7’s against the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers, respectively, the Knicks were closing out the regular season and looking to send the Charlotte Bobcats to the worst record in NBA history, and then there was that little event, called the NBA Draft. On top of that, the Yankees had an off day and superstar Mariano Rivera was doing an autograph signing at Macy’s. Yet with all that, and despite the cold temps and drizzle, one of the biggest draws came from an athlete who has been injured, won’t compete again until November, and plies is trade in a sport still not legal in New York State on the professional level. His name is Georges St-Pierre, and he remains the UFC welterweight champion.

Despite all the competition, close to 1,000 fans lined up at a SoHo Sports Authority to get a photo and an autograph with the Canadian star, who was there because of his work with MISSION AthleteCare and the launch of their new ENDURACOOL towel (I was there because of Mission). The fact that so many, with little advertising on such a crowded sports day and at dinner time (6 p.m.), and that the crowd was so diverse, small kids, Wall Street types, moms, people from all races and backgrounds, continues to speak volumes as to the drawing power of the UFC in the key younger demo. While Rivera had the benefit of a large media buy from Macy’s as well as advertising all over the outside of the World’s Largest Department store in midtown, GSP had his twitter and Facebook followers, the followers of the UFC, and some help from marketing and The Sports Authority to come to a SoHo corner. The result, with just a little targeted social media push, was a huge outpouring of support that was respectful and very orderly as well.

Now many may still be opposed to the spectacle of MMA and what happens in the ring. However one cannot knock the entertainment business that the UFC has built and grown around such marketable and personable stars as St-Pierre, especially in a State where no fans can still watch him compete live. He never wavered on a photo, never complained about the location, welcomed the questions, and probably added even more fans who were just casually strolling by. There may be some brands that still consider fighting in a cage barbaric, or may think that the UFC as a draw may have plateaued, but that has little to do with the charismatic and viral draw of the athletes who do compete, and also train to stay in top shape, using the different disciplines of MMA.

St-Pierre’s following is global, as is the UFC’s, so its hard to say even with the social push how many people would have seen and then been able to come in the New York metro area. That really makes the outreach even more impressive. If he were in town promoting a specific event…for example this coming week’s UFC fight in New Jersey, a naysayer could say that was the draw. However here is a guy who has had knee surgery, is not from the area (although he spends a great amount of time training in NY with superstar Renzo Gracie) and will not compete again until probably November. He was also there working with a new product, not a mainstream sponsor like a Budweiser or even Harley Davidson and there was no requirement to purchase anything to attend the meet and greet. If he were an NFL player with no ties to New York or a NASCAR driver on an off weeknight, the impact would have been nowhere near as big given the same marketing spend. It was simple, effective, viral and social marketing at its best, and spoke very loud volumes as to how to pick an athlete and then draw a crowd, on the most crowded of days, to get grassroots exposure.

Certainly worth noting for brands looking to draw as to who to partner with. The UFC athlete, and their ability to connect with fans, is still very, very impressive.

Brand Carano The Next Big Women’s Crossover?

Anyone who has turned on a sporting event in the last two weeks has seen the preview of the new Steven Soderbergh movie “Haywire,” which stars among others Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan MacGregor. However one of the biggest crossover stars in the film may just be Gina Carano. The daughter of former Cowboys QB Glenn Carano, the Texas native has been the poster girl for the female side of Mixed Martial Arts for some time, combining a championship style (just one loss in the cage) with the looks and acting ability to be a box office draw.

Her emergence as the star of “Haywire” comes at a very interesting time for women’s athletics. Going into an Olympic year and with Danica Patrick crossing over to NASCAR fulltime, it seems like the opportunity for healthy role models who can engage both male and female audiences may be higher than it has been in some time. The economy is bouncing back, the ability for any athlete to carve his or her niche in the digital space is an added plus, and there is an ever-growing need for positive stories about responsible, healthy and well rounded athletes no matter what their gender. So why could Carano be the biggest of the big? Few reasons.

Her athletic ability is amazing: The appeal Carano had in competing was that she wasn’t just a great female MMA fighter, her technique made her a great MMA competitor regardless of her gender. She fought with flair and speed, and that athletic ability apparently has carried over into her action film career.

She has understood the business side: She was always a serious competitor, but her brand appeal in the cage went far beyond her competitive spirit. Carano understood how to work sponsors and television and mix the appeal of a woman in what is very much a man’s game, while being taken seriously by all who watched. Brands interested in testing the MMA space gravitated to her and as a result she helped grow the sport with her mix of mainstream appeal and athletic ability. She made believers out of many who thought that a woman competing would be more of a freak show and less an athletic competition, and even made the hardline male UFC consider a women’s fight at some point.

She competed in a fast growing training sport: While it is true that she has yet (and may never) compete in a UFC/Zuffa event, her success in the cage and in other MMA disciplines has made Gina Carano the role model for others, both men and women, to point to in terms of using MMA for training and success. MMA as a training sport continues to grow globally, in many ways outside of the success of the professional events of the UFC.

She can act: The limited but solid success of the movie Warrior this past fall was a solid next step in mainstream appeal for MMA. Carano’s work in mainstream action films while she can still compete at a professional level will give MMA another needed pop with the casual sport fan, and with the younger demo who loves both action films and action sports. It is a great opportunity for crossover appeal.

Now does this mean that Carano can gain more mainstream success than an athlete like Serena Williams, Nastia Lukin or Patrick? No, well not yet. She hasn’t competed in a while and there is still some question as to whether she will compete again. Even less than boxing, female MMA is nowhere near as deep in talent, and there have been some questions lately with some other elite female fighters and use of banned substances, so that will limit some of the competitive draw. An athlete like Lukin or Hope Solo is returning to one of the world’s biggest stages, the Olympic Games, this summer, while Patrick, even with a less than successful racing career to date, still has a huge competitive platform to see and be seen every week. Still for a young active sport that still needs more mainstream and casual appeal, Gina Carano has a huge upside, one that marketers may glean to in the coming months even more, especially if Haywire does well…and if she returns successfully to professional competition. Definitely a name and a brand on the upswing.

Lancing A New Niche Sport

This coming weekend the Professional Bull Riders will kick off their new season with their annual stop at Madison square Garden. One of the more innovative sports brands in fan engagement and experience, the PBR has survived the economic woes of some of its biggest partners to again become a property worth following for new ways to test the digital marketplace (especially in the mobile space) to keep their core fans interested while the Tour goes around to some far outposts, while also finding angles to lure in casual fans who may never see a bull but who like thrill sports and the various platforms that can be created to follow and have some fun in the digital space.

New York has been a critical stop for the PBR for its kickoff event each January, a time when they can show brands that a sport with western roots can holds its own on Madison Avenue. Every year some new engagement is brought to the front by the PBR in New York, whether it is a parade of bulls on Sixth Avenue, new television partners, new gaming opportunities or the ability to bring companies into the space for the first time. This year however, the PBR, along with the History Channel, may be bringing another niche to the forefront in the manicured dirt of MSG. It is professional jousting, and like the PBR, is a sport which is long on action and personality but unlike the PBR is short on grassroots and mainstream engagement. However it is a made for TV spectacle, and needs really little explanation.

Now jousting has been on the come as an event for several years, both abroad and in the United States. The current form looks to take tough guys from varied backgrounds (think a little early MMA on horseback) and drop them into a storied competition with new age technology and branding opportunities. The PBR partnership, with the startup Full Metal Jousting group, will try and ride the core of PBR followers in both New York and later on in Anaheim, to grow awareness and interest. The thought is that if you enjoy the thrill of bull riding, can lances and armor be that far away. Jousting does have all the elements for modern TV spectacle, short of Snooki being the damsel in distress. Most of all it has a TV partner willing to promote, and an event partner willing to share the spotlight to grow together.

Will it find it’s niche? Hard to say. Already there is competition in the jousting arena, with National Geographic well into its own jousting stars show, “Knights of Mayhem.” one thing any edgy startup doesn’t need to sell to brands and potential fans is confusion as to who is with who, so a little working together would be great. Second, one other barrier are the competitors themselves. One of MMA’s greatest hooks is that you get to see the human emotion up close and personal, with little barrier in place. The jousting participants (hopefully) are sheathed in armour (Under Armour sponsor anyone?) and riding horses. Yes we get lots of backstory for a taped reality show, and we can learn and feel for the contestants and their stories (also one of MMA’s greatest selling points) but the drama beneath the armour loses some of the appeal for the spectator. Can jousting continue its comeback from Medieval Times? It has action, science, an appeal to a male demo and great in arena drama, as well as those nice broadcast partners. Do we need night after night of jousting? Probably not.

More importantly than whether jousting succeeds, what we may be seeing is that the mainstream interest and acceptance of the PBR is growing to a point where 0ther startups can partner to test new waters for activation and engagement. We have sen it in the digital space with the PBR and now in the event space. Jousting and bulls may make for an interesting combination, whether they make great business sense will be TBD. Sharpen your lances and lock away the bulls.

The Year In Sports Films…

It wasn’t a blockbuster year for sports-themed films, and perhaps the best work again was the ESPN 30 For 30 series put together by Bill Simmons, which brought us inside the lives of everyone from Steve Bartman to Marcus Dupree and beyond. Now sports product placement in film again thrived, and in a year when traditional advertising in categories like automotive is still rebounding, cross promotions with action films and video games grew, a great sign for those who sell the space for the teams we watch.

Going into the final days of 2011, here is a look at the top grossing sports-themed films of the year (data as of 12/26 per boxofficemojo.com):

1- Cars 2 ($191.4 million). The animated sequel again helped lift auto racing and merch with kids.
2- Real Steel ($89 million). Another Disney-inspired story looked at the future of boxing, with robots filling in for humans, and Hugh Jackman (trained by Sugar Ray Leonard) training the robots.
3- Moneyball ($74.4 million). The Brad Pitt/Oakland A’s drama brought casual fans in to find out more about analytics and baseball.
4- Soul Surfer ($43.8 million), The story of teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a surfing incident with a shark, but overcame her fears and returned to the water.
5- Warrior ($13.6 million). A boost for Mixed Martial Arts with perhaps the best MMA-themed movie to date, the brother vs. brother story was a little “Rocky,” a little “Champ,” and a good story overall. Two big box office draws for 2012 headlined the film Joel Edgerton (will be in The Great Gatsby) and Tom Hardy (Bain in The Dark Knight Rises)
6- The Mighty Macs ($1.9 million). A limited release, the uplifting story of Immaculata College and their rise to the top of women’s hoops in the 1970’s.