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What is UFC’s master plan to expand into mainland China?

By Zach Arnold | August 25, 2014

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There were lots of interesting stories coming out of UFC’s active weekend in Macau & Tulsa. Talk about two different worlds. There was Michael Bisping doing his best Freddy Krueger impersonation on Cung Le’s face and perhaps putting the guy into retirement. At the Macau event, UFC regulated the whole ball of wax and yanked a judge after the first two fights due to poor performance. Let the hand-wringing commence.

There was the arrest of Jordan Mein’s father, Lee Mein, for sexual battery. UFC barred Lee Mein from being in the building to watch his son fight but Lloyd Irvin was in the corner of James Vick. I’m fully expecting UFC’s political critics to start tagging the sport with the “rape culture” label. And, truthfully, MMA is in a perilous spot on that front right about now.

Then there was Rafael dos Anjos blitzkrieging Ben Henderson and John McCarthy catching hell for his stoppage in that fight. I suspect Jason Herzog probably would have let this fight play out a bit more.

Given these interesting stories, I still find myself asking one over-arching question about what UFC is up to right now and it’s a question that I don’t think the company has done a very good job of answering:

What exactly is UFC’s grand plan into expanding their brand into mainland China?

If there is one thing UFC is brilliant at, it’s corporate sloganeering. World Fucking Domination. Their bravado is unmatched except perhaps with FIFA propaganda material. Ironic given that UFC claims MMA will be as big as soccer in the next 10 years. So why has UFC been strangely silent about their goals & benchmarks for success in the Chinese marketplace?

Zuffa has ran two three Macau events at The Venetian and ran one Fight Pass show in Singapore. Cung Le headlined two of the Macau shows. UFC has Ultimate Fighter China. And that’s about it. Meanwhile, One FC with Victor Cui is setting the table long-term to expand his footprint in the Asian marketplace as a serious arena player. RUFF is the one active MMA promoter right now on the mainland. There’s the proposed M-1 Challenge event this November in Shanghai. Why hasn’t Zuffa been able to buy their way into the marketplace? A lot of it probably has to do with their corporate ideology and the refusal to change their matchmaking to bend to cultural tastes & sensitivities.

Is the plan simply to wait for others to pave the way and then swoop right in with arena shows? If UFC can’t conquer New York politics, how the hell are they going to conquer Beijing?

I understand why Bob Arum is running fights in Macau with Manny Pacquiao. For Manny, it’s about the taxes. For Arum, it’s about the site fee he can command because Manny and big name boxers can attract huge whales to gamble significant cash on fights. Plus, Top Rank has Ryota Murata. Of all the major combat sports right now, MMA is the least likely to attract the big whales. Luca Fury can generate a living as an online handicapper but the casinos want warm bodies in their buildings to blow cash at the tables & at the sportsbooks. MMA simply isn’t attracting that kind of fan given the demographics. Great TV demographics with 18-to-34 year olds but not-so-great casino spending demos.

It’s hard to put into perspective what is happening with UFC’s grand vision of what to do in Asia. They fired Mark Fischer and have inserted Garry Cook into the equation. One colleague of mine described him as an MMA version of Karl Rove, a kind of guy with a gift for gab & strategy that UFC is counting on to transcend cultural boundaries. The problem is that cultural boundaries are everything when it comes to the combat sports business in Asia. I’m amazed that UFC hasn’t bothered hiring Chinese or Japanese business executives who potential sponsors & power brokers can relate to on business matters. Even WWE has their own president for Japanese operations.

Unlike most, I was not critical of UFC’s initial disclosure about plans to run a reality TV show in Japan that’s based on a different format than Ultimate Fighter. As long as they can partner up with some Japanese promoters and get on network television, anything can happen. But they announced those plans when Mark Fischer was around. He’s gone. We’re one month away from the Saitama Super Arena event which has a bizarre card headlined by an even stranger yet intriguing main event of Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson. Things have really cooled off for Dentsu since they inked their deal with UFC a few years ago. UFC achieved what they wanted on the first show. What is their goal now in Japan?

Normally, the UFC is very certain and public about their marketing pronouncements. They know what they want and know what their talking points are. Curiously, you aren’t seeing such bravado right now from the world’s only major MMA promoter. Until they come up with a disciplined, smart, adaptable strategy to address the cultural tastes of the various Asian markets, they’re chasing their own tail. They would be better off focusing all their energy on Australia at this point in time.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

8 Responses to “What is UFC’s master plan to expand into mainland China?”

  1. Diaz's cashed bowl says:

    “I’m fully expecting UFC’s political critics to start tagging the sport with the “rape culture” label any time now.”

    Actually, no. UFC are properly aligned with the military, having “fight for the troops” and other misc programs fundraisers, promos prominent placement of airforce army marine logos all over most of the shows etc… and they have made all the donations to the squeakier politicians.
    One thing about the military(and the political culture) it’s the epitome of rape culture.
    With a horrifying 74% of all women being raped in the armed forces.

    3 out of 4 women who join the military will be raped!
    This is apparently not a problem for the politicians.
    No charges are brought against these military rapists!

    Look, the politicians know what a great promotional tool the UFC is for the US military, and so with UFC co branding with armed forces they’ve made themselves as immune to criticism as the armed forces. UFCs global domination slogan is surely shared by any red blooded politician.

    • Chuck says:

      74%?!?! Are you smoking crack? There is no way the number is that high. Most statistics range about 20-25 or so percent. The number you brought up is more than likely the percentage of women in the military who were on the receiving end of sexual HARASSMENT. Must different than rape. Sexual harassment can range from a slap on the ass to telling a woman that she is a whore or whatever else. Terrible that it happens, but it’s not rape. Due diligence is a good thing to practice man….

      • Diaz's cashed bowl says:

        78% of women 38% men were sexually abused in some way according to the DoD study, that includes a variety of physical sexual abuse from kissing touching to intercourse. Studies show between 24%-43% of women were raped “classically”.
        You’re are an authority apologist and a fool for criticizing “me” for bringing up this problem.

        So its not really 3 out of 4 women
        raped, but only 1 or 2 out of 4? THANK GOD!

        Dude, look… when you can say-” hey, its only 1 out 1,000 women get raped in this institution called the army which your tax dollars pay for then your unabashed nut hugging of anything establishment can be forgiven.
        Until then, until something MAJOR is done, Its not “terrible” that it happens, its CRIMINAL and its institutionalized criminality that you pay for!

        Maybe you were “greased” in the service and liked it? I don’t know. But next time Obama claims to be saving some women in some foreign country, think about who he’s sending in to protect those women, a group of paid hardened rapists, a proven rape and kill culture if there ever was one.

        • Chuck says:

          Damn dude! What the hell? Where in my post did I even HINT at being an apologist for authority or rape culture? How about me criticizing you for bringing it up? That is fucking crazy! I’m every bit as disgusted as you my man! But I am a bigger fan of due diligence and truth. As I said, rape is different than sexual harassment. For rape, there has to be insertion of some sort. All of it must be stopped. The same problem exists in the peace corps as well.

      • Chuck says:

        I must say though, you spanked me with this comment;

        “Its not “terrible” that it happens, its CRIMINAL and its institutionalized criminality that you pay for!”

        I have nothing on that. You got me there man. Zach, if you want to combine this post with the one directly ahead of it you can.

  2. Ryan says:

    I think what we’re seeing in Asia is largely placeholder biz as the markets develop themselves. Dana White talks about what will happen when they find their own Yao Ming, and I think that’s telling. Once something happens or someone appears that really puts some fire under things in Japan, then the UFC will try to take advantage (or bungle it, either on their own or because of typical japanese infighting). With China, it’s very much introducing the sport and then giving them the 3-5 years the region needs to not suck huge balls at the sport.

  3. Ryan says:

    “UFC president Dana White said in a June interview with Bloomberg News that he’s seeking to air matches in China, a market that could surpass North America. “With the right television deal, China would smoke everything on earth,” he said.”

    too bad the right tv deal is hard to get. What is the Japanese tv situation like?

    • Diaz's cashed bowl says:

      Great showing by Askren and Aoki and Huerta at this mornings ONE fc reign of champions. Pure devastation by two of the top 5 grapplers in the sport!
      I see oneFC getting the share in china. China doesn’t really want the roided women beating racist foul mouthed frankenstein monsters that the ufc sells.
      Nice to see non-douchebags do well, like Huerta… known for preventing violence against women, and laying a righteous beatdown on misogynists.


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