Dana White has the UFC is drowning in money right now. UFC 257 is the sixth most bought pay-per-view of all time with 1.6 million buys. Francis Ngannou vs. Stipe Miocic and UFC 260 certainly sold 800,000 and has the world talking about the UFC. The new apparel deal with Venum has significantly increased revenue, which has also resulted in bigger paychecks for fighters.
Q1 has been huge for the UFC, but it looks like Q2 is going to be even bigger. Masvidal vs. Usman, Mcgregor vs. Poirier 3, vacant lightweight championship bout. This is not even mentioning the rumored Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones main event for the fall, or Israel Adesanya, who should have a middleweight championship defense before the end of the year. Pair this with the UFC going back to sold-out stadiums as of UFC 261 in two weeks, and it is pretty clear that 2021 is going to be huge for Dana White.
This is not just some coincidence either. White has worked for years to build up the prestige and popularity of the UFC, allowing it to naturally grow and become what it is today. That is why it was one of the few profitable companies in 2020 and why it has a huge 2021 in front of it.
There is no other league in as good a position as the UFC is. So I wanted to see what the UFC is doing to create this situation and what other leagues can take away from it.
Find the Political Balance
I am behind the paywall here, so I feel like we can actually be adults and have this conversation. For those who are here and may want to get hostile, both ends of the spectrum are going to get some flack here, so chill. Both sides are stupid.
Let us start with some facts. Less than 20% of Americans are on Twitter (less than 50% of whom are monthly users), while 69.1% of Americans use Facebook (about 35% are daily users). Of voting Americans, about half vote conservative, and the other half vote democrat. Most Americans are not political which is why most Americans do not vote. According to a Pew Research Survey, most daily Twitter users heavily favor the democratic policy, however, the less active members tend to lean non-political.
For these reasons, people and companies need to understand a simple fact: Twitter is not real life and is not reflective of the general public.
In 2020, many companies saw Twitter’s political/social campaigns and forgot the above fact. They centered their company/product’s identity around these Twitter campaigns, putting social justice and political messaging on everything they could. This may have made Twitter users happy, but effectively isolated the conservative and non-political audience/consumers.
The NFL and NBA both did this in 2020/2021. Political messaging was everywhere you looked in their broadcast, mostly centered around the Black Lives Matter and Anti-Racist movements. This is not an inherently bad message or movement (I would personally argue it is an important one), but it isolates a huge portion of the league’s audience.
This does not mean this portion of the audience is inherently racist either, so stop typing that. The reality is that most of this group just do not want to ponder political questions or thoughts at all. Then another large portion of that group uses sports as an escape from the stress of modern life, which includes escaping from teenagers screaming whatever political thought they can muster on Twitter.
The UFC recognized this. They kept their broadcast focused on the fights and kept the political messaging for social media. In interviews and on their own socials, fighters were encouraged to give their opinions and share their thoughts on politics. However, when the octagon was on the screen, it was about fighting.
Other leagues need to find the balance that the UFC found for their political messaging. There is a time for talking about your causes and giving mention to political movements, yes. However, the hit the leagues took in the ratings should make it clear that that time is not during the game. Save that conversation for interviews and social media, where people are actually looking for conversations.
It is time to get off the political topic, yeah?
Let your players be
Conor Mcgregor threw a guard rail through a bus window because he was angry at someone on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s team. Dana White did not cut Mcgregor, he did not protect Khabib. No, White built a pay-per-view around this incident and sold it for $69.99. The fighters got to say what they wanted in the pressers, and trust me, they had the stuff to say. The fighters got to brutalize each other in the octagon.
2.4 million buys later, this is still the UFC’s highest selling pay-per-view of all time.
When athletes are allowed to have opinions and personalities and be unique, they will draw a crowd. That is what made Mcgregor a star, with his crazy outbursts during press conferences. Sean O’Malley is a very unique fighter, building a fanbase with his spectacular knockouts. Jorge Masvidal, Colby Covington, Israel Adesanya, Max Holloway, and Kevin Holland are all fighters who made names for themselves by being unique.
Sometimes, being unique is more interesting than being the best too. Khabib Nurmagomedov was the best, however, he was not nearly as interesting as Conor Mcgregor, Justin Gaethje, or Dustin Poirier in his own division, so casual fans were turned off by him. Kamaru Usman is a great wrestler, but his style of fighting will never be more exciting than Jorge Masvidal, Colby Covington, or Leon Edwards.
In other leagues, players are punished for being unique.
Say something off-color in a presser (especially if it criticizes a referee)? Catch a fine. Get mouthy with another player in a game? Teched up, thrown out, and catch a fine. Hit a player harder than two touches? Ejection, fine. Talk smack on Twitter? Fine. Unique celebration? Do it exactly how we want or fine.
The NBA is specifically bad about this. Literally, any “unprofessional” behavior will result in an ejection of any player. If you think this was a poor call and say so, you better be ready for a big fine. No one watches the NBA watch the referees, but that is how it ends up with ejections like this.
These leagues need to let their player be themselves and be unique because that is how you get committed fans who want to watch every matchup.
Invest in your future, stop making now decisions
When Conor Mcgregor left the UFC in 2017 to go box Floyd Mayweather, it was not clear whether or not he would ever come back to the league. This meant that the UFC had effectively lost its two biggest names (Rousey had left in late 2016) in less than a year. The UFC should have crashed and burned.
However, they did not fail, they flourished. Dana White had been building up Khabib Nurmagomedov as the next big lightweight champion. Amanda Nunes was at the beginning of her now historic and legendary championship reign. Israel Adesanya and Jorge Masvidal were just getting ready to break the top 15. The UFC had people to take their place, which kept them from losing it all.
Even now, the UFC is raising new stars right under your nose. Sean O’Malley and Islam Makhachev are two future stars that the UFC is building right now. Despite having Conor Mcgregor, Amanda Nunes, Israel Adesanya, and Stipe Miocic on the payroll right now, White is more focused on getting these new talents more exposure.
No other league does this well and it is not even close.
The NBA specifically struggles a ton with making decisions for today’s stars, and not tomorrows. Why focus on getting Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns on TV (mind you, also the second seed in the west), when you can have every single Laker’s game on ESPN? Why broadcast the up-and-coming Chicago Bulls, or Utah Jazz (one seed in the west), or New York Knicks, or Charlotte Hornets when you can roll out the dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets again.
The NFL is a little better about this, but that largely has to do with the limited number of games and having more broadcast partners. It also is a whole lot harder to know which teams will be good twelve months from now, so they get a bit of a pass.
The MLB also struggles here. If you are not the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or Astros, you do not get a TV spot. The MLB’s blackout rules on streaming also do not help. They are by far the worst in this problem.
If the other leagues will work on showcasing the new talents and rising stars/teams, they can make sure in the next few years, when the big modern stars retire, they can finally stop the ratings drop that inevitably happens every five years.