The UFC has seen unprecedented growth since its inception in 1993. It now hosts over 40 events per year, shown in 120 countries and broadcasts to over one million viewers regularly. However the ongoing murmurings of UFC superstar Conor McGregor taking on Boxing legend Floyd Mayweather in September have elevated its popularity to stratospheric heights, firmly establishing the UFC as a mainstream brand.
Indeed, it’s the rise of personalities like McGregor that has given the UFC its bite, helping to elevate the brand among a growing audience, thereby attracting more and more commercial opportunities.
But when it comes to a partnership with the UFC, what sort of stance should brands adopt? Should they dive in, or keep their guard up?
The opportunity for brands to tap into the UFC is obvious – a growing audience of young adults, a simple marketplace with few competing brands, and, increasingly, the chance to activate across the globe. But it’s important to understand how customers perceive the UFC, which will dictate which brands would find it an appropriate and commercial beneficial property to get involved with.
Leo Burnett’s Sponsor DNA, which analyses customer perceptions of sponsorship properties and brands according to 14 key metrics allowing is to dissect the fabric of a property, shows us that the UFC over-indexes against all other events on perceptions of "innovation", "uniqueness" and "popularity" – a green flag for brands looking to strengthen their own brand perceptions in those areas.
These findings could pose opportunities for brands such as Microsoft and Omega, who similarly are perceived as highly innovative and are looking for new, interesting ways to push their standing as forward-thinking brands.
Contrasting the UFC, and sports like it, with more traditional sports and events highlights just how innovative and fresh consumers think it to be. For example, the Premier League, The London Marathon and The Football League are completely outscored on innovation – 10% below the average, compared to events like the UFC and Formula E, which are 15% above.
Which brands have already capitalised on the UFC (and got it right)?
Reebok is a great example of a brand aligned well with the UFC’s brand values. They have, quite simply, captured the market, negotiating complete ownership of the fighters in their category, including clothing, equipment and authority over any personal sponsorship deals fighters have in place.
In any area of sponsorship, with any property, Reebok’s relationship with the UFC stands out as an example of the right dynamic between sponsor and property.
Another example is Samsung, a brand for which innovation is critical. Samsung has recently moved to capitalise on the UFC opportunity with a partnership announced in May that will allow fights to be live-streamed through their new GEAR VR headsets.
In short, the UFC is a promising and relatively untapped market for sponsors, presenting a tremendous opportunity for brands looking to align themselves with a sport that encapsulates innovation within the mainstream.
In particular, challenger brands like Reebok, which is looking to differentiate themselves as their industry’s innovative brand, should leverage this opportunity, as long as they’re values align with the UFC and they can summon best-in-class activations to make the most of the platform.
And yet, no matter how accepted it becomes in the mainstream, this bloodthirsty sport will always be a punch too far some brands to step into the Octagon.
Liam Hopkins is the sponsorship board account director at Leo Burnett London.