Thanks to my husband I’m fairly well educated on the happenings of the UFC. I used to think it was extremely violent and kind of sick that people were entertained by the barbaric beat downs; and completely confused when I saw the guys throwing punches without reservation and then hug at the end of a match. I’m still a little flabbergasted by that last one; but I definitely better understand the sport and it’s like a physical chess match. These guys are always thinking 3 steps ahead, and approaching their opponent with much more intelligence than the fury of a backyard brawl. I respect the sport. And you really have to at least acknowledge the growth and evolution of the sport – it hasn’t been that long that it was basically outlawed on television, and now it’s taking over boxing fans. It’s popular. And the business and marketing surrounding the sport has evolved too.
UFC recently made a deal with FOX; which has been perceived as a great move for the sport’s fast evolving, popular demand. I first learned about it through my husband who has been a loyal fan for years. Even more recently, they announced a new ban than is directly tied to their new partnership with FOX. “…absolutely no firearms, ammo, hunting or knife companies will be permitted as sponsors in any Zuffa-promoted events.” This is a very big deal, especially since they had a standing relationship with some arms dealers – specifically The Gun Store in Vegas; who’s owner, Chris Irwin, is clearly unhappy. I would personally have to agree that this is the best decision for the brand; however, I don’t believe this is one of those “easy,” implementations as there are people this will hurt.
The UFC has been fighting against the perception of barbarism and unnecessary violence for a long time. Even as an occasional spectator I wouldn’t say I’m entirely convinced it’s completely sane; and there are many people who are not so indifferent about it. While I am sure that from a brand’s perspective, The Gun Store has found a great match to their target audience; I’m not so sure the affiliation is a win-win. When two brands who are both fighting the same battle against perceptions of violence pair up, it’s just not the best complement. Whether right or not, the audience who vehemently opposes the violence promoted by guns, will likely associate this same passionate perspective with the UFC. If sponsorship is about complementary missions, and the UFC is really opposing the perspective of violence and want to be taken seriously as a sport, they’re probably hurting this effort by affiliating with a brand fighting the same (if not even more serious) battle.
Now, I’m sure people like Chris Irwin would have some very good points to lay out about the reality behind their efforts to maintain safety, about American’s right to bear arms, and so on; but the question isn’t whether he’s right, it’s what is the perspective of their audience? Of FOX’s audience and the UFC’s audience? I would agree that there’s a stronger possibility that the affiliation could hurt both brands as it continues to grow internationally. People will ban stations they feel participate or affiliate in business that is morally offensive. Whether they agree or disagree, FOX and UFC have to consider what their target audience wants.
Here’s where I find it hard to swallow. Most fighters who make the UFC what it is are not making much money. They live on sponsor dollars, and we all know how competitive it is right now. I’m a big fan of George St. Pierre – he’s not hurting for cash/sponsors, but the up and coming fighters or the not-so-famous fighters are the ones who are cringing right now because they either lost a sponsor, or they’re going to compete with the other fighters who lost their sponsor for the cash that’s left. Unless they’re on the card and showing up on air, they really can’t guarantee that a sponsor is going to get much exposure, it’s a tough sale. And they already have to worry about exclusivity since Dana White and Zuffa already required that their fighters honor the exclusivity rights they offer to brand sponsors. Their tough world just got a little bit tougher. So for that reason, I offer my sympathy.
Any other thoughts on this news? I’m always interested to hear the perspective of other professionals – or athletes.