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Amidst good news on future plans, UFC’s PR machine not keeping up with the times

By Zach Arnold | December 12, 2013

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It’s been quite an interesting week of announcements & declarations by Zuffa.

The bad news: You won’t have Cain Velasquez to run away from for the next year due to surgery & rehab. Fabricio Werdum will face the winner of the Josh Barnett/Travis Browne fight that takes place on December 28th in Las Vegas.

Now, onto some less stressful headlines.

First, the news that had everyone buzzing yesterday: 115 pound female fighters now headed to the UFC via The Ultimate Fighter. Here’s the roster.

The reality show’s in the tank but we learned last season that amongst the now-limited viewership that the women draw better TV ratings than the men. So, for the UFC, it’s a no-risk proposition. For non-135 pound female fighters, it’s a win. For Invicta, they lose fighters while gaining credibility as a feeder system. And with Carla Esparza, they naturally have multiple aspects on the program to discuss (her being a champion, her friendship with the late Shane Del Rosario). The emotions should be really high. It all depends on how UFC editors handle the situation and if they do so in a tactful manner.

One thing is for certain — we’re definitely going to see a growing amount of women’s MMA content on the proposed UFC online internet channel. Zuffa will reportedly unveil all their plans during the weekend of the NYE show in Las Vegas. There have been a lot of comparisons made to the upcoming WWE Network that is expected to a broadband-based channel. The differences between the two projects in scope are dramatic. With the WWE Network, the company will be moving a lot of their B-level PPVs to the net and will be relying on over 60,000 hours of archived footage from different promotions over the past decades to try to lure in old wrestling fans to pay $15 a month. WWE management is pushing a number of 1 million subscribers a month needed in order to make the math work, although I suspect that it’s just a high number they aspire to reach and not the bare bones number they need to break even.

With UFC’s new online channel, they seem to be aiming more towards a hybrid MLB TV model where there will be some feeder shows that will allow the promotion to lock in even more prospects and build them up the way they want. There will be an emphasis on UFC as a “worldwide” league rather than the American/South American dominated company that it is right now. Bryan Alvarez recently talked about the challenges that the new UFC channel will bring in terms of matchmaking. Joe Silva & Sean Shelby will now have to figure out matchmaking for the Internet shows, the Fox Sports cable shows, The Ultimate Fighter, and the PPV circuit. In other words, UFC’s new channel could morph into something big or it could just be another nice revenue stream. Nothing more, nothing less. Potential for upside with not a lot of downside. The WWE Network proposition, on the other hand, carries some real risk. It may be foreward thinking but perhaps the wrong time to pull off the project. That’s why there’s so much more buzz about what the WWE Network could or could not turn out to be.

The UFC does have an excellent point man at the helm of the project and that point man is Marshall Zelaznik. The UFC will be make their online network geo-specific for America, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Last Friday’s Brisbane show featuring Mark Hunt vs. Bigfoot Silva was a total success on all accounts. The only negative happened to be some nasty anti-UFC press that American fans have long experienced in putting up with.

Phil Rothfield sits down with UFC Australia boss after scathing column that enraged MMA fans worldwide

UFC had Tom Wright handle the public relations to deal with the criticism. Memo to UFC: Don’t have your representatives talk about MMA being something children can learn from. Don’t have your representatives claim that MMA doesn’t have a raging steroids problem when it’s as dirty as horse racing right now and your staff lobbies athletic commissions to let fighters get permission slips to use testosterone (anabolic steroids). Kind of like an endocrinologist reportedly showing some doubt about Chael Sonnen’s hypogonadism diagnosis but now saying he needs testosterone because he’s been using it for years.

Claiming “our doctors don’t work for us” when you have a point man in Dr. Jeff Davidson overseeing the regulation of fighters using testosterone on overseas shows isn’t a good look. It opens the door up for UFC to, rightfully, get shredded.

And one more thing: stop with the “fastest growing sport in the world” tagline when it’s utterly false. The UFC needs to step up it’s PR game in relation to their expansion attempts. It’s 2014, not 2008.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 31 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

31 Responses to “Amidst good news on future plans, UFC’s PR machine not keeping up with the times”

  1. Walter says:

    UFC is going to start losing some if it’s original TUF fans that took the ride during TUF 1, and I don’t know if the new fans they hope to pickup will compensate.

    Too many weight classes, too much wmma, and too many shows now for anything but hardcores to follow. What are they trying to do, turn coke into Coke Zero? Did anyone at Zuffa even see the quality of TUF 18? The weight classes under 170 are the unpopular ones yet they keep adding more?

    How much will they stuff down our throats before they realize they are damaging their own brand. Look at UFC on FOX 9, it’s basically WEC on FOX now. Guessing 1.7 M viewers maybe, and the FOX cards were supposed to be a big deal.

  2. stak says:

    if it’s not mma then what’s the fastest growing sport in the world?

    • Walter says:

      Dunno, but considering MMA isn’t considered a sport in many parts of the world it’s hard to say.

    • Steve4192 says:

      Agreed.

      MMA may have plateaued in the United States, but it is still growing like a weed abroad despite the odd setback or two.

      In a very short time, it has become a more global sport than most stick-and-ball team sports. It still has a way to go to catch basketball, and is likely never going to catch soccer, but I’d wager it has already surpassed the global footprint of American football, baseball, and hockey. I’d also say it stacks up well against individual sports like cricket, tennis, golf, and ping pong. While it still might trail some of those sports in popularity, it is certainly GROWING faster than all of them.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      They can run shows wherever they want if they are willing to spend the money or find someone who will pay for it. It doesn’t necessarily “prove” growth, though it can indicate it. Even if they ultimately lose money trying for, say, Chinese expansion, the risk-to-reward ratio probably says to do it just because of how many consumers are there. Sure, they don’t have competent fighters in China (one guy on TUF China has never trained at all ever) and they’re years away in a best case scenario from having a title contending talent, but no one here is gonna see that season. No one’s gonna see those fights. Maybe people there will be interested in seeing 4th rate MMA this time as opposed to all the other previous times, and that’s what matters.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    There is two ways to look at the UFC Digital Network.

    For people with cable… It just means more money to watch all of the fights. That just is not a good idea at all.

    For people who don’t have cable…. it means they have a way to see about 15 cards a year. Not the best cards, but better then the current complete void for cord cutters. Add in an antenna for the FOX shows and it is much better then what the cord cutters currently get.

    For me personally, I’ve stopped really watching Netflix, so if the UFC is priced at around $8 a month I will probably just cancel Netflix and give the UFC thing a try. But if it doesn’t keep my interest I will cancel.

    **********

    As for the Female Strawweight Division…. GREED!! GREED!! GREED!! They want put on more cards and this is the only way they can figure out how to do it…. By increasing the number of weight classes.

    3 years ago the UFC had 5 champions. Easy to follow. Easy to understand. Now they have 10 champions of complete chaos.

  4. cutch says:

    Garry Cook was talking about the UFC having a matchmaker for the European shows, I would assume they would do the same for the Asian shows.

    I can eventually see them doing both a Worldwide circuit and a regional circuit, the Worldwide series would be the current PPVs and Fox shows and maybe a few others and the regional series would be North America (current Wednesday night Fox Sports shows held in the US), South America, Europe, Asia etc and the TV partner would just show the fights in your specific region and the Worldwide series.

    Gustaffson-Manuwa and some of these other fights in Europe and Asia will probably air quite a bit on UFC Unleashed I would imagine.

  5. 45 Huddle says:

    Dana White said they are going to change the sponsor structure that will help everybody from the bottom fighter on the card to Cain Velasquez. He wouldn’t say how.

    I wonder if they are going to get a few companies to sponsor every fighter on the card and then they each get a payout depending on how high they are up on the card. Just a guess.

    Either way, I think it is good if they are trying to help out the lesser fighters with sponsors…

    *****

    DFW clarified that the PPV increase is only for this one card (UFC 168).

    • nottheface says:

      My guess is that the UFC will announce that they are implementing UFC-wide sponsorship whose logos appear on every fighters shorts. (Fighter contracts currently allow the UFC to unilaterally sell this space). The UFC will then give fighters a cut. the glass half full thinking is that fighters who weren’t making anything on sponsorship will now make more. The glass half full thinking is that the UFC drove out those sponsors with their policies and will now give the fighters a smaller cut of the sponsor revenue.

      • Steve4192 says:

        It will certainly help guys like Mark Hunt and Roger Gracie, neither of whom seems to bother with lining up sponsors. It will also likely help the guys at the bottom of the roster and fighters from outside the Americas. But I don’t see any way it could possibly help guys like GSP or Bones Jones. Nor do I particularly trust Zuffa to share the wealth. They might throw the fighters a token percentage, but I have little doubt they’ll keep the vast majority of that income (rather than a 50-50 split like most major sports leagues).

        • nottheface says:

          Roger was a special case, he apparently put a premium on his Gracie name. He had plenty of offers but he turned them down because no one met the price he set.

          But with regards to the vast majority of the fighters they’ll probably greet it as good news, failing to notice that this has been in the works for years. They added the advertising space language into the contracts back in 2008 or so and then as Nate Quarry said, it went from
          “you can have any sponsors you want. Then it became you can’t have conflicting sponsors. Then it became we need to approve your sponsors. Then it became your sponsors have to pay a tax so they can sponsor you and the UFC.”

          Supposedly they recently increased that fee, driving out even more sponsor dollars. So fighters are going to be happy with whatever little money the UFC offers. Don’;t know what will happen with the biggest names, they’ll probably have to pay to opt of it. Or maybe they’ll be restricted to the same in cage sponsors and can only represent their other brands outside the cage?

          No guarantee this is what Dana’s talking about, but I think it’s a guarantee that it happens sooner or later. The water is boiling and no one noticed it was getting warmer for years.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Most major sports leagues dont do a 50/50 split. They dont even allow sponsors on the uniforms.

        • nottheface says:

          In major sports leagues that sponsor revenue is included in the total revenue from which the players split is calculated. Thus if players negotiated a 50/50 revenue split, 50% of the advertising revenue is earmarked for players pay.

          So yes, players aren’t allowed their own sponsors, but they are making money off the league deals.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Hence why the UFC fighters need a union. GSP should use his free time and help out the lesser fighters. But he won’t…

  6. david m says:

    Dana has really pissed me off immeasurably with his GSP diatribes. I mean, the guy has no respect at all. He talks as though he were a fucking fighter, rather than a boxercise instructor who had a plan and some rich friends.

    I hope GSP tells Dana to go fuck himself and retires with the belt.

  7. 45 Huddle says:

    Looks like GSP is going to vacate the belt.

    This is horrible. The first time he fights a guy who can really match him in wrestling and is tougher then him…. He wins a BS decision…. And then quits.

    At least give Hendricks a rematch and then quit whether you win or lose. This is cowardly stuff from a “fighter”…

    • Steve4192 says:

      Bullshit.

      GSP has the right to retire whenever he sees fit. I respect guys who are smart enough to go out while they are still on top. It’s a big part of the reason why I have so much respect for the careers of guys like Jim Brown and Barry Sanders.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        But he isn’t retiring. He specifically said he was not.

        He is taking “time off”.

        And it only happened after he basically got beat.

        That’s a tuck job if there ever was one.

        • Steve4192 says:

          He didn’t ‘basically get beat’.

          He won.

          Your opinion of the judges decision doesn’t change the result. He and Hendricks fought an incredibly close fight that neither man clearly won, and the only people with an opinion that matters (the judges) gave the ‘W’ to GSP. Bemoan that fact all you want, that ‘W’ is there to stay.

          As far as him ‘taking time off’ versus ‘retiring’, who gives a shit? They are the same damn thing in MMA. Everyone who ‘retires’ comes back, usually more than once. GSP is just being honest about it rather than playing the overly-dramatic ‘retirement card’.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          12 out of 12 media members that were polled right after the fight had it 3 to 2 for Hendricks.

          Not to mentionally GSP physically got the worst of it.

          He tucked instead of doing the rematch. Typically Frenchie…

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Imagine if Jones pulled this after his fight with Gustaffson. Would there be the same reaction? Absolutely not. Fans would be outraged.

        • edub says:

          People wouldn’t be defending it because Jones has been fighting for 5.5 years. GSP has been fighting for about twice that.

          Some of those media members had rounds different, and some had it 4-1. Some of them polled after the fight have changed their mind, and given the first to GSP.

  8. 45 Huddle says:

    GSP is saying he will still train. But he is vacating the belt. And that he will come back.

    Holy jumping tuck job on Hendricks. When Hendricks loses, I bet GSP will all of a sudden be ready to return…

    • Steve4192 says:

      Unbunch you panties.

      There is always going to be another up and comer like Hendricks on the horizon. Using your logic, he can’t ever retire. GSP has been taking on the best of the best for nearly a decade. He’s made his mark and established himself as the best WW in history. If he doesn’t have the burning desire to fight anymore, he should retire. Fighting is not the kind of sport anyone should be taking part in if their heart isn’t in it.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        But he only lost that “burning desire” once he got beat up by the first guy he knew he couldn’t avenge.

        He got caught by both Hughes & Serra. He got beat up by Hendricks. And he walked away from that rematch.

        Garbage.

        • edub says:

          “But he only lost that “burning desire” once he got beat up by the first guy he knew he couldn’t avenge.”

          Rumors were literally everywhere that he might retire after the fight. Logic would dictate that the burning desire had probably left a while back.

          Those two matches happened in the middle of his career. This one happened after a tough knee surgery, three fights where he didn’t seem to have the same explosiveness, and multiple questions regarding retirement heading into the fight.

      • nottheface says:

        the smart thing about not completely retiring and leaving the door open is that it’s going to make the fans that much more likely to be asking for a GSP vs the new champ fight. Since no one can sell like GSP and a return would be a huge seller, GSP can stay retired until the UFC offers him a much better deal than what he’s currently getting.

  9. 45 Huddle says:

    Johny Hendicks vs. Robbie Lawler for the Welterweight Title. Good fight.

    • Steve4192 says:

      Great entertaining fight, but not a great title match.

      Condit and Shields both have a better claim to a title shot than Lawler. I would rather they did a little four man tourney to determine the champion rather than just declaring Hendricks-Lawler for the belt. I’m going to laugh my ass off if one of those guys gets hurt and we wind up with something like Robbie Lawler versus Matt Brown for the WW title.

      • edub says:

        I think Lawler is more deserving then Shields, but not Condit. Close either way, and I’m a Lawler nuthugger so I’m probably giving him a bit extra in that regard.

        I’d rather have seen a 4 man tourney with Shields, Condit, Hendricks, and Lawler. Then have the Maia-MaDonald winner fight Brown for a shot at the winner (or another #1 contender fight down the line).

        Or just say f it and bring Diaz back to talk a bunch of shit to everybody.

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