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UFC's White and Zuffa: Brilliant or Heartless?

by Emily Taylor
29 12 2009

A recent announcement rang through the ears of UFC fighters and sponsors alike.  Due to the seriously varied reactions and a personal interest in the development of this sport, I’ve decided to take a brief break from the top 10 tips series we’ve been going through to offer some thoughts on this intriguing “situation.” 

Dana White has changed the perception of UFC since he took over as President 10 years ago; and many expect him to do much more within the next 10 years.  It’s clear that some of the bold moves he and Zuffa have made are working, but at what cost?  I’m sure many align the pair with the slogan: “it’s not personal, it’s just business,” or, “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to make money
Consider the recent sponsorship related announcement for example; Condom Depot has been banned from sponsoring the UFC or its fighters.  Their reasoning?  Without interviewing we can’t be completely positive but based on history, there are just a few likely options. 

  1. There’s a chance the UFC could end up with a network deal; obviously attractive to promoting the sport, and it’s quite possible the alignment of the UFC with sponsors such as condom depot might not help their chances.  This issue points back to the concept of “mutually beneficial partners.”  If the partnership inhibits the UFC from growing the way it wants to, it’s not a good deal. 
  2. The second issue is somewhat related.  Let’s assume the network is OK with Condom Depot on their station.  It’s possible that White and Zuffa are concerned that there is a brand image problem here – and brand images can make or break partnership deals.  The UFC image has to be OK with being affiliated with the brand image of Condom Depot… and in this case, they might be guilty by association.  If they want to overcome the perception that UFC is barbaric and classless, it might not be the best idea to wear the “condom depot” logo on the back of their shorts.  We scoff at the though of a football team wearing the Condom Depot logo on thier jersey's, and the UFC wants the same kind of regard from their fans.

But before I turn this into a one-sided argument for the decision, let me introduce the major reason for turmoil.  Condom Depot wasn’t a sponsor of the UFC itself – but of the fighters.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to individual fighters, which the UFC saw not a penny of – even though it bears the “burden” of affiliation.  These fighters are able to train and pursue their passion for fighting with their livelihood covered as a result of these individual sponsors, and needless to say, their personal paychecks will be seriously altered if they can’t find a replacement.  The athletes are the ones most seriously penalized for this new ban, and so you can see why there’s such a mixed response to the decision. UFC might be making history, but thier fighters are wrapped up in a love hate releationship with Dana and Zuffa. 

The UFC has major sponsors such as Bud Light, Harley Davidson and Burger King.  These sponsors are not necessarily aligned with individual fighters, but they are UFC sponsors.  Individual fighters aquire thier own sponsors seperate from the UFC sponsors; without which they might not be able to continue fighting.  Dana and Zuffa have done a brilliant thing as well – which has likely also caused their athletes some pain, and that is by putting boundaries on sponsorships by offering exclusivity to its’ sponsors.  We know from IEG’s reporting that exclusivity is one of the most preferred benefits to a sponsor, which is why I call this move brilliant.  It’s why , however, despite a major “brawl,” Rockstar energy was not allowed as a sponsor either; at least for now, they weren’t banned like Condom Depot.  So with these restrictions applying to the athlete sponsors as well (per their contracts), they have an even more difficult time acquiring the sponsors they need to proceed with their chosen careers.  But will it keep the major players involved and weed out the underdogs?  Perhaps.  I’m not sure if this is a good thing for the UFC or not; the ring is certainly crowded with top talent, this might just be a way of weeding out the less aggressive contenders.  The popular title holder, George St. Pierre from Canada is safe for the moment – he landed one of the first major sponsors as an individual fighter – Gatorade now aligns their brand with his image.  And there’s talk that Nike is interested in a little UFC affiliation as well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens next; I’m sure White and Zuffa won’t keep us in our seats for long.


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Sponsorship Connection Tip #5: Pursue Those Who Have a Reason to be Interested in You

by Emily Taylor
22 12 2009

Pursue those who have reason to be interested in you: This means you will need to do your homework and be sure to know something about what that company is doing and where they are going. SponsorPark does this for you by sending your proposal out to sponsors who have already indicated their interests and established search criteria. 

I went to Baylor University for college.  One semester as I was walking to class, my head was spinning about this tremendous paper I was in the middle of writing.  My mind was so internally focused on my recent efforts that I put it on autopilot and trudged up the stairs to sit in my usual seat, pen in hand and notebook ready.  It was then that I finally looked up and took a quick glance around me at the unfamiliar faces and the strange layout of the room I had entered.  A “sweet” snicker from the left side of the room prompted me to realize I had walked into the wrong room entirely… face red and eyes down I stumbled back out into the hallway smirking to myself – oops!  Wrong place, wrong time.  I heard a brief eruption of laughter and the comment “well, hope she finds where she was meant to be…”

“What does that have to do with sponsorship?”  You might be wondering.  Well… far too often we hear from sponsors that it’s not unusual at all that they hear from someone seeking sponsorship and silently sit back wondering why in the heck they were being approached.  You don’t want to be perceived as the ignorant person who was at the wrong place at the wrong time for an unknown reason.  Now, just becasue a partnership doesn't immediately appear to have much in common, underneath you might have complementary goals.  But if that's not the case, they’ll get off the phone with you after the polite brush off, and snicker… “what the…?”  Let’s put it in terms for the season we’re in.  It’s comparable to say, my husband buying me a toolset for Christmas.  I would open the package and look up in surprise and curiosity.  “Um… do you know me?”  Fortunately for me, I’m not getting a toolset for Christmas…

Something else to keep in mind, C and D level executives are busier than ever and unfortunately they’ve been put in the position described above enough times that it’s a major hurdle to get over just to get them to listen to you half the time.  When you’re lucky enough to capture two minutes of their attention, they WILL NOT waste their time listening to and considering your proposal unless you quickly connect the dots to why their involvement makes sense.  My advice - quickly demonstrate your efforts in doing your homework.  Do you know their mission? Do you know where have they offered support in the past?  How this partnership might be uniquely capable of driving the kind of results they’re looking for?  How your target audience really aligns with theirs? These are all effective talking points to consider.  People love to talk about and hear about themselves – engaging conversationalists know this.  Sponsors are no different. 

We had a sponsorship opportunity representative once tell us the story of receiving a contact of a potential sponsor from a trusted source.  It was a referral, so they felt confident that they could get a meeting arranged.  So, though nearly a cold call, they dialed, calmed the fluttering butterflies in their stomach, and as soon as the individual answered, they sputtered out a quick greeting and a few sentences as to why they were calling and why they thought this could be a great partnership.  The voice on the other line was annoyed and dry – “umm, you must not realize our company is dissolving.  We recently filed a chapter 7, and so as you can see, we are not interested, nor able to support you at this time.”  Ooops!  She muttered her apologies and quickly hung up the phone.  Another contact of a religious organization recently informed me of her failed attempts to obtain a partnership with a major corporation, not understanding why they would not be interested.  Her target audience was not in line with pleasing the vast majority of their target audience, and the affiliation would have likely wreaked havoc on their brand.  While being passionate, even biased toward your opportunity can be endearing, and even inspirational, it’s frankly selfish and unattractive not to have considered the other side of the partnership before proposing a commitment from them. 

So as you’re chowing on holiday munchies and opening thoughtful Christmas presents, consider what a gift it would be to offer a sponsor a well thought out sponsorship proposal in the new year!  Done this well in the past – tell us about your successes and your brilliant partnerships and we’ll consider featuring your story on our website.  Look forward to hearing about your successes and introducing more next year! 



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Sponsorship Connection Tips #3 & #4: Cast a Vision, and Quantify Your Value in as Many Ways as Possible

by Emily Taylor
15 12 2009

Cast a vision:  Clearly as one who represents a sponsorship opportunity you have a passion for what you are doing, paint that picture for why it’s a big deal - tell your story. But be careful to pair feelings with thinking. Pair qualitative with quantitative reasoning. 

Quantify your value in as many ways as possible: While there are some benefits you can’t assign a number to, such as popularity or the loyalty of your customer base; there are many things that you can, such as: target audience information, media and broadcast exposure, and category exclusivity you could offer.  The economy has made consumers more aware of corporate spending and required accountability with decision makers. Make it clear and easy to defend as to why they should partner with you.

These two tips really are a good pair to talk about together, because as you are casting your vision, it’s important to marry the “feeler” and “thinker” perspectives so that while you’re giving life to an opportunity with expressed “meaningful” points, you’re also giving something of substance for them to walk away with.  Fact is more powerful than opinion.  Perspective is in the eye of the beholder, and so quantification is critical.  For tip #3, I encourage you to reference the blog entitled: “Be a Good Storyteller; Cast Your Vision,” which we posted in September.  

I will add that when you are casting a vision, it’s important to highlight your ability to captivate a particular audience and how a sponsor’s affiliation with you might improve loyalty to their brand.  I had coffee with a potential client yesterday, and we were discussing the many different reasons a sponsor might choose to partner with you.  Remember that while some up and coming brands might be interested in tremendous exposure, others are well established and looking for a powerful affiliation.  It seems like there’s a new energy drink or line of clothing everywhere you look when watching the UFC – this exposure is exciting for them.  But when you see the brand giants investing in a sponsorship opportunity their investment purposes are likely very different.   Tiger Wood’s drama right now is a perfect example of how originally he had brands wanting their logo affiliating with him for the reach he had even outside of the avid golf fan, where now, the vision he casts might not be so pretty.  The impression you make on your audience, and the loyalty you can offer a company with their consumer as a result is a major asset you can paint a picture of when casting your vision.

Quantifying your value has never been more important than it is now.  There was a beautiful season for property rights holders – especially in sports, when all you really had to do was find a sponsorship decision maker that just really liked basketball, you offered season tickets as part of your package of benefits, and they were sold.  Those days are now ancient history.  Now, with companies being held highly accountable for their spending, sponsorship must hinge on the impression that it is a business development technique, a marketing option.  There’s more to the partnership than tickets and logos.  We really like SponsorshipPRO+ for their efforts in helping you communicate value from a partnership with their software.  Using a resource like this gives you something tangible to offer sponsors when discussing previous successes.

We mentioned inventorying your assets in last week’s blog, and gave a brief summary about intangible vs. tangible assets.  Even your intangible assets you can assign a ballpark value to (IEG offers some great consulting on this topic), though it’s wise to keep in mind this is a starting point.  The value really is determined by the priorities of the sponsor – but you can start somewhere. 

Imagine you are a student looking for colleges, after narrowing down your options to two choices, you attend a guided tour.  At the first school the guide tells you; “Oh – you’re going to just love that our professors really care about your growth, and there’s so many extracurricular activities to meet people, and it really is a beautiful campus.”  Now imagine that on your second tour you heard your guide say; “I understand you are interested in a business degree – our business school is in the top 5 in the nation, 90% of our students graduate with jobs already lined up.  There are 5 fraternities and 26 interest specific groups you can get involved in….” you get the picture.  You start getting the warm and fuzzy when you get some numbers to go with the statement.  I’ll say it again; facts are more powerful than opinion

Another reason why you need to quantify your value is because the truth is that it’s a buyer’s market.  Sponsorships are competitive, and in the negotiating piece of getting a contract together, you need to be able to explain why you are charging for the values that you have to offer.  Be careful not to back down too low in your packages – this undercuts your value and cripples you for the years to come.  You can always add benefits to the packages you have established in order to spice it up and keep it competitive, but make it as tough as possible to argue by quantifying your value upfront.


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