Make no mistake about it – the fight game is a business just as much as it is a sport.
And over the last few days a strange order of events has unfolded in this big market fight game. One that is really interesting to look at from a marketers perspective.
Organizations make products and brands. The purpose of the products is usually to make profit for the organizations. But what happens when the product becomes bigger than the organization? And even worse, when that product has a mind of its own?
In this blog we will assume that brands can be people. Marketers have different opinions about this topic (Forbes.com, 2016; Daye, 2009). But in this blog I will assume that a person can be a brand, and what is being sold to the consumers is the experience of watching that person perform.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship® (UFC) is the fastest growing sports organization in the world. It started in 1993 as a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) organization and has since then revolutionized the business of fighting. Today it is the world’s leading MMA organization and produces more than 40 live events annually and is the largest Pay-Per-View provider in the world (UFC.com, 2016) .
Every fighter in the UFC could be thought of as a brand promoted by the organization. Each of these fighters has a nickname and a personality that the organization promotes differently. The fighters personas are built up in advertisements and press conferences held by the UFC and all fight-consumers have their favorite fighters that they are more willing to pay for seeing perform.
Every once in a while the organizations sees a special opportunity to make up and coming fighters a well known brand. These are the fighters with the biggest personalities. When those big personalities come together with great fighting skills and flashy knockouts that is a recipe for a marketing success for the UFC.
One of these UFC stars is Conor McGregor. As a young fighter from Ireland, Mcgregor started an undefeated streak of 14 wins. With his outspoken and charismatic personality he soon became really popular in his native country. Dana White, the president of the UFC, heard of this young kid and few days later he was signed to the UFC (Wikipedia, 2016).
Dana was so fond of his personality and his plans were obvious. He was going to make this kid the face of the organization. The UFC promoted him heavily and gave him privileges that other fighters did not get. He got airtime on all the radio stations and all the tv shows. And their plan worked out.
“If he can even throw a punch, this kid is going to be something special. It’s bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s crazy.” – Dana White (UFC president)
Conor kept winning fights and every time he delivered golden quotes that every media picked up. Soon he was world champion and his fan base grew bigger every day. He was the face of the organization on every poster and on the cover of the UFC video game. Eventually many considered if Conor McGregor had become bigger than the UFC (O’Dea, 2016). The product bigger than the organization.
Let’s look at some numbers.
On Instagram Conor has become bigger than the organization. On Instagram and facebook he is bigger than the president of the organization. In few years he might catch up to the organization on twitter also. But what is the risk of his huge popularity for the UFC? It is all about power and leverage. Does the UFC control Conor McGregor or does Conor McGregor control the UFC?
In July UFC will host it’s biggest show ever, UFC 200. They have built up anticipation for the show over the last few years saying it will be bigger than anything they have done before. People have been waiting for fight announcement for this show for months. And who did they choose to headline the show. No other than their biggest product – Conor McGregor.
But in one instance, all of UFC plans for their big event were turned upside down.
Conor decided to tweet:
The results. 170K rewteets and 140k likes. No athlete in history has ever created such a buzz. It was bigger than any tweet by an athlete in the year 2015. Not even NBA superstar Kobe Bryant got more response when he tweeted about his retirement.
And the results. The organizations biggest event ever was in jeopardy. Without a headline. Without a real draw. The event that the organisation had promoted so heavily for years was falling apart. All because the product had become bigger than the organization, and had a mind of it’s own. The product decided it did not want to be a part of the organization any more. And the organization suffered. One tweet.
The details of the reasons of the withdrawal are still not clear. Most journalists and analysts think it’s a powerplay. A statement speculated to be something like “I am bigger than the organization – I don’t need you anymore. I can do my own shows now”. Or a powerplay in terms of making a better deal for himself for that show.
It seems like the UFC made a prodigy that is now out of their control. Prodigy that could possibly make more damage to the brand than profit. If Conor decides to make his own shows headlining his own cards there is a high possibility he will give the UFC a harsh competition for fight fans views and moneys. No one knows how this situation will play out. But one thing is for sure. He has already caused the UFC some damage with his actions.
Student ID: 215415783
Daye, D. (2009). Branding Debate: Are People Brands? | Branding Strategy Insider. [online] Branding Strategy Insider. Available at: http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2009/05/branding-debate-are-people-brands.html#.Vx2cDXqwU-o [Accessed 25 Apr. 2016].
Forbes.com. (2016). Forbes Welcome. [online] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2011/11/28/brands-are-people-too/#2b79be875ca3 [Accessed 23 Apr. 2016].
O’Dea, P. (2016). Is Conor McGregor Really Bigger Than The UFC? – Pundit Arena. [online] Pundit Arena. Available at: http://www.punditarena.com/mmaufc/podea/conor-mcgregor-bigger-ufc/ [Accessed 25 Apr. 2016].
Ufc.com. (2016). The UFC® – Learn How the Ultimate Fighting Championship Began. [online] Available at: http://www.ufc.com/discover/ufc [Accessed 24 Apr. 2016].
Wikipedia. (2016). Conor McGregor. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conor_McGregor [Accessed 25 Apr. 2016].