As 2014 comes to a close and conversation in the MMA sphere inevitably turns to fond memories and annual awards, this article takes a unique look at six examples of stellar marketing that helped make this year one of the biggest and most significant in the sport’s history.

 

1) The UFC welcomes CM Punk

While Phil ‘CM Punk’ Brooks has not fought a single professional MMA fight, the marketing motivation behind the UFC’s acquisition of the former WWE talentannounced at last Saturday’s UFC 181 eventis clear.

In Brooks, the UFC gains an already established brand, as well as an opportunity to engage the professional wrestling fan base and wider mainstream audience. The deal could potentially recreate the lucrative success of Brock Lesnar’s migration from the squared circle to the Octagon back in 2009, with Brooks’ journey providing hours of content for the UFC’s Fight Pass network. At worst, the intrigue around Brooks’ will generate a strong number for any pay-per-view card he is likely to be placed on. Low risk, high reward.

Now granted, the MMA talent pool is significantly more developed in 2014 than 2009 and Phil Brooks does not possess the prestigious combat sports background that Lesnar earned in NCAA amateur wrestling as a college athlete. In spite of this, Brooks’ recruitment has generated significant media attention that stands to put new and returning eyes on the UFC product, as fans and detractors alike wait with bated breath to see how ‘The Straight Edge Superstar’ fares in mixed martial arts.

2) Bellator matchmakes Tito Ortiz vs Stephan Bonnar

Who would have thought that pitting two UFC alumni against each other with a combined record of 6-6 in the last four years would prove to be such a successful promotional recipe in 2014?

Scott Coker.

The experienced promoter exploited Spike TV’s former association with the UFC and Ortiz’s staying power as a promotional draw among the sport’s casual and former fans to host Bellator’s highest rated event in the company’s history, attracting a peak two million viewers to its cable and satellite television platform.

Perhaps recognizing that their athletic prime was behind them, both Ortiz and Bonnar exchanged a fair amount of sensational rhetoric that elevated personal animosity above competitive skillsets in Bellator’s promotion of the fight. The formula counteracted many of the UFC’s matchmaking traits, emphasising an alternative product in Bellator that still generated impressive viewing figures.

3) ONE FC signs Ben Askren and Rich Franklin

Widely considered to be Asia’s largest MMA promotion, ONE Fighting Championship enjoyed a successful year, underscored by the successful capture of former Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren and hiring of UFC veteran Rich Franklin as the promotion’s Vice President.

The decisions to sign Askren and publicize the hiring of Franklin secured vital bridges between the Singapore-based promotion and the North American audience. By using the two widely-renowned figures as English-speaking ambassadors of the brand, ONE FC made important steps towards becoming a globally renowned product.

Between Askren’s talent and Franklin’s experience in the sport, the two bring added credibility to the organization while sharing the ability to communicate directly with MMA media outlets in the Western world.

4) Titan FC publicizes its contractual ‘UFC Clause’

Shortly after Lex McMahon of Alchemist MMA Management joined Titan Fighting Championship, the national promotion’s new COO disclosed a notable contractual clause that the company were introducing to fighter agreements – the ‘UFC Clause’, an option for talent to release themselves from a contract with Titan FC if an opportunity to join the Ultimate Fighting Championship presents itself.

The clause itself and the decision to expose it to the public are elements of an intelligent marketing plan designed to attract favorable attention and stand out among the wealth of smaller MMA promotions populating the MMA landscape.

Fan could be endeared by the promotion’s reluctance to hold it fighters back from an incredible and profitable opportunity, while Titan FC establishes a competitive advantage over other companies vying for fighters of a certain caliber that sit on the fringes of the UFC’s roster.

While the logistical disadvantages of the ‘UFC Clause’ emerged when Ben Saunders withdrew from a Titan FC championship fight just two weeks ahead of the event to return to the UFC, this short-term business setback pales in comparison to the drawn out slew of negative PR that World Series of Fighting and Bellator attracted after public criticism from contracted fighters including Steve Carl, Josh Burkman and Eddie Alvarez. Both organizations have since resolved these disputes.

5) Invicta FC agrees broadcast deal with Fight Pass

When Invicta Fighting Championships President Shannon Knapp signed an exclusive broadcast agreement with Zuffa’s digital on-demand network Fight Pass, she effectively killed two birds with one stone.

With a single signature, Knapp found the promotion a long-term home while capitalizing on the platform’s niche viewership to directly engage dedicated MMA enthusiasts through targeted marketing.

In doing so, Invicta FC organically piggybacked the UFC’s reputable, well-established brand name while opening its product up to a global audience. As an added bonus, the promotion resolved itself of the various complications associated with iPPV that had risked antagonizing viewers previously.

With the UFC developing their market share in women’s MMA in the same span of time, an element of luck underpins this agreement. Never the less, Knapp’s decision is arguably one of the best marketing manoeuvres of the year.

6) Conor McGregor’s Bold Predictions

Room for one more on the McGregor bandwagon?

Connor McGregor could be defined as a one-man marketing phenomenon in his own right, but it his natural charisma and proactive willingness to address his opponent in bombastic fashion that has prompted the UFC to elevate him to main event status in both Europe and North America.

The results have proved fruitful for employer and employee alike. McGregor has accelerated up the UFC’s featherweight division rankings with a perfect 4-0 record and looks poised to secure number one contender status if he earns a fifth consecutive victory in the Octagon against Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night 59 on January 18, 2015.

While entertaining sound bites, impeccable suits, and an Irish heritage have cultivated a large fan base for ‘The Notorious One’, it is his outspoken yet frighteningly accurate predictions that have perhaps had the most understated impact.

In a sport where cliches such as ‘anything can happen’ and ‘all it takes is one punch’ are almost commonplace, McGregor’s willingness and uncanny ability to pick both the type of finish and the round number that his fights conclude in is well received by fans and media alike. The bold move not only reinforces McGregor’s self-confidence, it also adds to the mystery surrounding the Irishman and his unorthodox, evasive fighting style.

In a marketing sense, ‘Mystic Mac’ is the UFC’s golden goose.

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.