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Some counterintuitive advice on making money in MMA media: build offline

By Zach Arnold | January 12, 2018

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I have enormous sympathy for many of my long-standing colleagues in the media, past and present. I’ve had the great honor of meeting some very salt-of-the-Earth people who grinded out a living and found their dreams crushed by a dreaded pink slip. Some of us never even got that courtesy.

I grew up around the combat sports as a child, so money was never the primary motive. It was a cultural issue for me. That’s what made the political blacklisting and backstabbing all the more frustrating. I had several high-profile opportunities spiked by powerful politicians and businessman.

I never anticipated making a steady income covering a massively corrupt industry. I never blamed those who had a dream and tried to make the impossible happen. Those who made a paycheck were the lucky ones. They were fortunate. I felt sorry for individuals who bought into the dream of covering combat sports as a sustainable career. A hard way to make a hard living.

The smartest media players were the ones who figured this out long in advance and tried to spin the publicity they gained into a different venture.

Over the last two decades, I’ve received numerous requests from young readers who wanted to build a career in the sports media landscape. I always gave an honest answer, one that often included a warning about a majority of writers having to survive on a stipend from a promoter or event benefactor. We were embroiled in debates about Fusion GPS-style payoffs long before the masses knew what a Fusion GPS was.

The future of the sports media landscape is in quicksand. Can you build any sort of career covering combat sports? Part of me is bullish and part of me is horribly bearish about the future of MMA writing.

Why bullish? If promoters and their friends aren’t paying off as many writers as they used to, at least readers will get more honesty. The trade off is less access.

Why bearish? Where to start? The truth doesn’t sell. Fights sell. Promotional work sells. How do you tell the truth about a fight business that’s largely built on a con? Part of selling a con is having an inventory of stories to write and tell. Right now, there’s not a lot of inventory to work with. We read the MMA sites daily. It’s a chore just to read the content that is available. I tip my cap every day to the grinders at Bloody Elbow and Sherdog who really are working their asses to produce content that makes you think.

The biggest factor working against MMA media, besides a cold fight product, is social media. Social media is a vacuum that sucks up all the spotlight. The Silicon Valley barons created a system where everyone does the work for them to produce content, for free, and in such a mind-numbing way that it has wrecked the world’s attention span. Forget trying to sell anything other than a 1,000 word article. 750 words may be pushing it.

How do you rebuild and reframe the structure of MMA media?

Go against the grain. Build a local and regional audience and then carry it over to an online platform.

Systems over goals, always.

Build a portfolio with multiple communication channels – snail mail, e-mail list, texting, web site. Avoid social media. Make your communication as direct with an audience as possible. Media is ultimately a relationships business.

Once you build your system, grind away at each part in equal measure. Constantly engage in A/B testing to see what gets more response, then reconfigure your communications model. Find out what subjects spark a fire locally and regionally. Hammer away on it. Once you build in-roads with an audience, you can expand your topic selection.

Be selective on who you build an audience with. Make sure your splits between insiders, well-to-do supporters, and common fans is balanced. Just because you make friends with a rich person doesn’t mean they’re going to spend any money on you. Rich people got rich for a reason and it isn’t because they spend heavy money on media.

Have a portfolio of content you want to sell: media (articles/books), videos (including documentaries), merchandising.

Once you establish an audience and establish your communications system, connect and network with advertisers or advertising agencies. Rely on an expert. Many experts. Develop an audience that’s majority female.

Follow this advice and you’ll be ahead of where I am. If you can hustle more cash than I have without taking a handout from a promoter, you’re a better person.

Topics: Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 3 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

3 Responses to “Some counterintuitive advice on making money in MMA media: build offline”

  1. Diaz's packed bowl says:

    Boy what a poor performance from rampage last night. His fight iq is pretty much 0. He had a great slam and could’ve won the 1st round had he followed with some GnP instead of letting Sonnen up. Sonnen has a good shot at winning the whole thing since his fight iq may be the highest outside of King mo. Im picking all the betting underdogs to win Fedor Roy and Mo.
    Poor showing by Big John imo. He seemed really stiff and confused when interviewing fighters. Showed little in the commentary department as well.
    Good gutsy show by Rory. It was hard to stomach the fight with that horrible lump growing all the while. Chandler is just a better fighter than goiti and he showed it while staying safe.
    Stipe is a fantastic fighter and a top 5 all time best HW… He could have finished the scary man for sure but you could tell he wanted to rub every ones face in his superiority. I scored the fight 50 41 could have been 50 40 for sure with that 4th round of 807 unanswered strikes.
    Stipe vs Cromier is the fight to do for sure.Im not sold on Cain returning to form and Cormier is set to retire in a year so Cains a non issue…

    The look on Nganno’s face after that first round… was like he just got dumped by his girl after hearing his dad died and lost his dog and caught the house on fire and being forcibly arrested trying to put it out.

    One fc also had great success with 3 great fights streaming on facebook. Although I cashed it in after the Imanari fight.

  2. King Famous says:

    Starting a media network (grassroots) is not for the faint of heart. I think it comes down to what you want to do, because to maintain the network and all its aspects takes constant daily work. Some people just want to be content creators. There are a lot of non-glorious tasks that come with the undertaking of making your own sustainable empire. But perhaps this is the case with any small business.
    As for the fights, I thought Lima was going to win and it looked like he just left the fight in the 5th. Chael I thought looked good – he stood with Big Rampage and that could not have been fun.
    Stipe is something else. He schooled a less experienced fighter which we should have seen coming.
    Cormier should fight heavy weight. He always should have.

  3. The post is good for those who want to make big money! Thus, thanks a lot from all of us.

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