From the perspective of MMA organizations such as the UFC, who offer programming all year round, the lack of an off-season creates an eternal struggle to stay fresh and exciting in the minds of new and existing fans.

While advertising and marketing play an essential role in the company’s quest to remain prominent in the global sports media spotlight, the UFC has also devised several initiatives to engage with viewers on a more personal level that transcends billboards, banner ads, and journalism.

In the past, the UFC has used its strong social media presence to converse with fans through caption competitions and Twitter takeovers led by leading personalities from the MMA sphere. The annual UFC Fan Expo has also proven a powerful resource for promoting the company’s fan-friendly identity; creating a live event environment where face-to-face conversation and an education toward the finer nuances of the sport is possible.

On Friday, October 10, the UFC distributed a press release outlining the details of a walkout t-shirt design contest, where the winning entry would be worn by UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey ahead of her bout with Cat Zingano, which is tapped to take place at UFC 182.

The creative exhibition is the latest example of dynamic consumer engagement on the part of MMA’s largest and most influential promotion, offering several advantages to both fans and the promotion itself.

Interaction with essential stakeholders

Using a contest that requires skill, time and effort to create a winning entry, the UFC has targeted a collection of MMA enthusiasts whose ‘special set of skills’ also suggests intelligence in the digital sphere.

Engaged designers and patrons of the UFC product are being targeted as beacons in the consumer marketplace. As artists, they can share their efforts across social media for feedback among their friends, colleagues and acquaintances. In doing so, the names of Ronda Rousey and the UFC are spread in a positive context, reaching new and unfamiliar viewers while subliminally reinforcing an appreciation of the brand among existing viewers.

In theoretical application, these stakeholders are of high value. Their potential to amplify the UFC brand in return for a chance to win the contest makes this collection of goods a minimal investment for the company.

It is also important to note that the contest does not necessarily discriminate against highly qualified entrants. The relatively simple criteria for entry means that people of all abilities can create entries for submission, regardless of whether they have any formal qualifications or not.

Free Content

The high profile nature of the competition, a combination of Rousey’s association with it and coverage achieved through both MMA news outlets and fan forums such as r/MMA, hopes to attract entries from a variety of graphic designers with different backgrounds and style preferences. An assorted collection of prizes also looks to encourage wider participation.

By receiving multiple entries, filled with rich and dynamic design concepts, the contest can harness the energy of multiple entrants, even if they do not win the contest. Entries can help to inspire the company in future graphic design projects going forward, especially in features like event posters and trailers, by bringing in new ideas from outside the company’s existing culture without having to pay for outside consultancy or putting new employees on payroll.


Scouting New Graphic Design Talent

Taking the concept of free content one step further, any exceptional entries that stand out among the pool of contest entrants might connect the UFC with talented graphic designers around the world, with the ultimate possibility of finding an incredibly gifted person to collaborate with on future projects.

With many graphic designers opting to work as freelancers, the combination of passion, flexibility and ability to work remotely makes them ideal working partners without incurring the costs of bringing someone on board in a full time capacity.

Another benefit of entering the contest among professional designers, besides simply winning it, is that any creation can be added to an existing portfolio of work, reflecting the designer’s ability to harmonize elements of the UFC brand with elements of the Rousey brand to create a united design that appeases all parties involved.


Harnessing Rousey’s Crossover Appeal

As a name that transcends MMA, and even the sporting world, Ronda Rousey has now penetrated Hollywood and the wider media industry through media appearances (Jimmy Kimmel), cameos (Entourage), and leading roles (Expendables 3), making her an incredibly valuable commodity to the UFC.

Any PR effort that includes Rousey’s name will elicit more recognition from media sources that are less familiar with the UFC brand, including celebrity news sites and perhaps even niche graphic design news sources. Harnessing Rousey’s unique appeal through the contest will not only create the residual benefits identified above, it will also benefit the sport of MMA in general.


Attracting sponsors for athletes

As a concept, the Ronda Rousey t-shirt design contest underlines the appeal of the walkout t-shirt to external sponsors.

As industry leaders in the sport, with high exposure, the UFC has an educated insight into the most integral and valuable aspects of marketing on its programming. The design contest highlights the influence of the walkout t-shirt on a UFC broadcast for cautious businesses who are interested in having their brand affiliated with a fighter, but are reluctant or unsure of their investment’s value.

By reassuring skeptical potential sponsors, the contest’s benefits extend beyond Ronda Rousey, reaching arguably the most important UFC stakeholder group there is: the roster.

About The Author

Aidan O'Connor
Staff Writer

A native of Maidstone, England, Aidan has been covering MMA in a news or feature capacity since 2010. In addition to writing for The MMA Corner, Aidan also runs the MMAmusing Twitter account and enjoys the sport as an avid enthusiast. A graduate in English and American Studies, he currently works in marketing and public relations.