On Saturday night, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) hosted their 100th pay-per-view special event at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. UFC is by far the most popular brand in the world of mixed martial arts, and the fact that they’ve been able to produce 100 of these major events, each a larger success than the previous one, shows how far the sport of MMA has come over the past few years. In particular, this event generated over $5 million in ticket revenue, even though the venue only seated about 11,000 (this is the third largest gate for a UFC event). There were also an estimated 1.5 million pay-per-view purchases worth about $75 million in revenue. When you look at these numbers, you have to acknowledge that UFC has established itself, and with that, brought MMA into the mainstream.
I have a few quick thoughts and questions to share about UFC and MMA:
- Brock Lesnar has clearly become a top-draw for UFC, even though he’s only fought 6 times. Some of that has to be attributed to his previous role with WWE and carrying some of that audience with him to UFC. However, UFC President Dana White is really focused on distinguishing the sport of UFC from the entertainment of wrestling. Unfortunately for White, Lesnar decided to act like a true wrestling heel (bad guy) after the match was over, taunting his opponent and the crowd. Some fans might get a kick out of this, but it ultimately damages the credibility of the sport and keeps that underlying association with wrestling alive.
- MMA is an incredibly brutal sport. Michael Bisping was knocked out cold and then got hit again for good measure, and Frank Mir was quite bloody when his match with Lesnar ended. The potential for someone to actually die during a match is something that the sport will always have to deal with. Some people believe that if/when this happens, the sport could collapse. However, boxing was able to go through those unfortunate incidents in the past. So what would the impact on the sport be if someone died in a match?
- Over time, UFC has been able to gain more acceptance from mainstream sponsors, like Bud Light for example. However, these brands need to be concerned about the violence of the sport having an impact on their brand perception (or in some cases, they might need to worry about one of the athletes openly bashing their company, as Lesnar did on Saturday). Can UFC and MMA continue to penetrate the mainstream sponsor categories, and are these companies actively measuring the impact of their sponsorships?
I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m being critical of UFC or MMA in general. I’ve been impressed by their steady growth on all fronts, including revenue, fan base and brand development. They still have some unique hurdles to face, so we’ll see how they continue to develop between now and UFC 200!