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You can sell a lot of things as a Mixed Martial Arts promoter, but selling tickets today is the hardest

By Zach Arnold | September 24, 2014

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It’s tough to promote Mixed Martial Arts. On paper, it sounds easy. Selling hope. Selling the future. Selling fun. Selling violence. How can it be that hard?

Try selling the rash of injuries to top fighters booked in main events. Grab the antacid every time Chris Weidman gets hurt. Hold your breath every time Cain Velasquez fights after the main event. Just pray that Anthony Pettis doesn’t get hurt in training before a big PPV date. To put into perspective the fragility of UFC’s top champions, consider the following: Velasquez, Pettis, and Weidman combined have fought 8 times since July of 2012. During the same time period, Donald Cerrone has fought 9 times. The guys who fight the most aren’t always rewarded with top spots on PPV.

This is why you get PPV main events like TJ Dillashaw vs. Joe Soto. This is why MMA was not meant to have three or four cards a month being promoted by one promotion. There simply isn’t enough talent to book given the absolute attrition this sport inflicts on top fighters. If it’s not injuries, it’s bad weight cutting. It’s drug suspensions. Guys use drugs for performance enhancement in and out of the ring. They’re more likely to use drugs if they have to fight as often as promoters call them with offers. Nobody can help themselves here.

Put into perspective all the craziness that went down with PRIDE a decade ago. Even running one card every 45 days resulted in a ton of last-minute fighter replacements, a wild west atmosphere for supposed drug testing, and lots of guys fighting through gruesome back & leg injuries because PRIDE was the biggest show in town. $50 million dollar years. A Fuji TV broadcast platform. And lots of colorful characters at ringside flaunting a lot of cash.

If you think the promoters and their backers are crazy, the fighters they book & their handlers are just as crazy if not more so. Dana White infamously remarked that every day he wakes up from bed he is prepared for the worst. Fighters say and do really stupid & violent things.

Jon Jones should be MMA’s most celebrated golden boy. An amazing fighter by in-ring standards and just as amazingly obtuse outside the cage.

Nick Diaz can’t help but get into trouble. One minute he’s holding out, the next minute he’s retired, and a few months later he’s in a headlining fight only to get exposed for having two DUI arrests.

Wanderlei Silva is running away from a drug test while claiming the process is a conspiracy to target him unfairly. When he tries to sue to get out of a sticky situation, he digs the hole deeper for himself by claiming the need to use a diuretic… for a wrist injury. Even worse, he can’t help himself from saying stupid things on social media. I wonder who produces his videos. A week before he was going to get hammered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Wanderlei claimed he was retiring from Mixed Martial Arts and let ‘er rip on the UFC. He skipped Tuesday’s meeting in Las Vegas where he was issued a supposed “life time” ban and $70,000 fine. Wanderlei is claiming that his personal war against the authorities “is just beginning.” So much for that retirement thing.

At least the guy didn’t go to jail on domestic violence charges like War Machine or Josh Grispi. Heaven help us if an active, PPV-drawing headliner ends up in jail over domestic violence. In an industry where a quarter of the fans are female, attracting new fans who control the finances in your typical, every day household is critical for financial survival.

This is why promoting Mixed Martial Arts is so difficult. Not only do you need a bank account with at least $10 million dollars, you need experience & knowledge of an extremely volatile business that is entirely reliant on a strong television platform. The margin for error is very slim. The only way to attract money marks, as noted by MMA Supremacy on Twitter, is to sell the hope that you’ll get onto PPV within a few years. Without PPV to dangle as a financial carrot, you simply can’t attract the kind of cash needed to become a serious player. There is no college course or textbook you can buy to understand how to be successful in an industry with a failure rate above 95%. Good luck with that.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 7 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

7 Responses to “You can sell a lot of things as a Mixed Martial Arts promoter, but selling tickets today is the hardest”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    The UFC is bes when it is 2 events per month with one fight night and one major card. Right now they have doubled that number of cards and they have killed the fans enthusiasm for the sport.

    If they wanted to expand it should have been with smaller cards under a different promotion name.

  2. Great post and thanks for highlighting the points on obstacles you’ve faced in MMA event marketing, Zach.

    Coming from a fighter’s perspective, and also being involved in an MMA fight last Saturday. The key to have a successful event is letting your community know in the online space that you’ll be involved with an event. For instance, I’m also a trainer at Ronin Athletics, and I let my students and followers know on social media that I was going to be involved in an event. Getting your followers and/or students involved has helped me have a good turnout at my event.

    If UFC continues this direction this will probably be the route that they need to heads towards.

  3. Jeff Montelongo says:

    With so many fighters dropping out of main events, mainly due to injuries, the fanbase has lost a lot of trust in the product to look forward in making plans to purchase or see the event which is one reason why PPV buys are down regardless of there being too many shows in general.

  4. Alan Conceicao says:

    If consistently burn the audience by selling them fights you have no intention or expectation of actually being able to make, then switching main events to far less attractive fights, you’ll find it tougher and tougher to sell tickets over time. I said that 5 years ago. I say it now. Their staunch refusal to cancel events caught up with them.

  5. David m says:

    Conor McGregor is the most compelling athlete in mma. I think he has more crossover appeal than anyone the sport has ever seen. I’m salivating at the thought of McGregor vs Aldo in a soccer stadium in Ireland filled with rabid Irishmen. It would bring back some Pride style excitement.

    • Diaz's packed bowl says:

      Alvarez and Cerrone’s Frye vs Akiyama moment was hilarious!
      Good lightweight and below showcase. Nice to see Tim get the beatdown in the only mid weight fight. Yoel is a scary man.

  6. […] You can sell a lot of things as a Mixed Martial Arts promoter, but selling tickets today is the hard… | […]


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