At the beginning, it’s important to say that UFC had many troubles during this successful journey. First of all, they had many problems with TV rights, and that was a big issue for the sport.
Beside TV rights, they had 2 other issues: lack of the money, and isolation from their fan base. Without TV, fans could not watch the fights and popularity of the sport was falling behind…
What did they do? They used social media platforms, newsletters, fighters and web to turn their own weakness into advantage. There are some reasons why they succeeded.
1. THEY CREATED A NETWORK (OWN TRIBE)
They knew that if they want something they must have a strong network of people (fans) around them. They also knew that people are better connected with athletes than with associations or clubs, so they set up a new strategy. All fighters had the obligation to open social media profile on Twitter or Facebook and they had awards for the best fighter on social media.
Every fighter that was the best on social media in certain period of time had $20.000 on his account. With this strategy, they have grown the base of people who followed fighters, and of course, a lot of the same fans also followed UFC! Smart move.
2. THEY INTERACT WITH FANS
UFC is making large efforts to interact with fan base and fighters on social media. Because, at the end of the day, the most important thing is not the number of people you are engaging, but the number of people you are engaging with. It’s called social media for a reason!
You can see that when they engaged their own fans on Twitter, fans replied to 24% of mentions. At the same time, Premier League replied only to 0.2%, NBA to only 0.3% and Champions League to only 1%.
With this move, they included their fans in communication and made them a part of this (we can call it) movement. Fans are now more loyal then ever.
When you follow UFC on their Twitter, they send you a Direct message with ‘thank you’ and free trial for something that is happening in that moment.
This strategy really works.
3. THEY SHARE EXCLUSIVE CONTENT
Every UFC fan has access to exclusive behind the scene content, UFC often uses call to action to fans, and in their posts they communicate with fighters.
They are focusing on mobile-first, athlete generated video content to create the ultimate fan experience in video and to bring growing, diverse UFC audience even closer to the action with content in the palm of their hands.
Below you have some examples of this cool interaction.
— UFC (@ufc) May 16, 2015
— UFC (@ufc) May 13, 2015
@stipemiocicufc looks to move one step closer to a title shot. #UFCAdelaide LIVE Saturday 11/8pm ETPT on @ufcfightpass. A video posted by ufc (@ufc) on
4. THEY HAVE INTERESTING NEWSLETTER AND A GREAT WEBSITE
I really like their Newsletter and content that they produce because it’s very simple and legible. Also, they don’t spam subscribers, they offer them information that they like and want to see.
I don’t like to open e-mails in my promotions tab, but I always open UFC newsletter as well as Valencia CF and #SportsDaily. They bring great and interesting content with cool graphics and sometime cool surprises.
UFC web site is modern, informative and simple. You can find everything about fighters, interesting facts about fights, many video content and even a fantasy game. The main focus is on the content such as interviews, the UFC minute, podcasts, infographics etc.
Content is king, and they know it very well.
5. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN TV
After they created big network of fighters and their fans, it was logical that they should create their own TV. They now have power in numbers and it’s perfectly logical that fans will pay to see their favorite fighter fight.
They don’t need big TV houses anymore, they now have their target audience and they have power. UFC is in a better position and they can dictate their own terms to the TV networks, and if you remember what I have written in the beginning, digital changed everything!
Now they don’t need TV rights to have money and to increase brand awareness or popularity of the sport. They made it themselves, they have great income from PPV and they have fans that share all the content they put on social media.
That is the true power of digital!
My brother Renato is a huge fan of UFC, and he told me that he really likes UFC primetime and he always watches it before battles. What is that? It’s their own show in which they follow fighters preparations for the match against one another. They talk about the fight, about training, what they think about their opponent, etc. (Did I tell you how important is content?)
Here is an example of UFC primetime show so you can see the example.
So they were on their knees, and they didn’t surrender… they created their own fan base based on fighters popularity, they created powerful and exclusive content and they interacted with fans! Now they are popular even if they are not on TV, because they have their own channels and pay per view system.
With this strategy, they now dictate the terms of TV rights agreement. Take it or leave it!
Dana White predicts MMA will be bigger than football World Cup 2018, and if they continue with this kind of digital marketing, everything is possible!
If you have a similar problem in your sport, you can try to follow the steps they created.
1. Create your own social media community
2. Encourage your athletes to be active on Social media, you will reap the benefits because people are more connected with players than with the clubs
3. Give your fans exclusive content
4. Don’t spam them, talk with them
5. Create content, special behind the scene content. Fans love it.