Jul 23, 2009 at 09:17 PM
written by Leland Roling, MMA Writer at BloodyElbow.com

Can the UFC Gain Sponsors That Have a Broader Appeal?

Sports Business Journal has an article up talking about the issue of the UFC continually fighting for gains in the advertising market. Most notably, there are a few choice quotes (via MMAPayout) from marketing firms that still point at the problem that Dana White and the UFC have in attracting different sponsors:

"I don’t think anyone wants to be there when something bad happens, and something bad is going to happen," said Larry Novenstern, executive vice president and director of electronic media for Optimedia.

Gibbs Haljun, managing director of media investment at GroupM, has bought time for some of his clients, but said many still stay away because of the perception that the sport is too violent. "It’s still niche. It’s not a mainstream sport at this point," Haljun said. "If you want an efficient way to reach young men, it’s a great opportunity. But it doesn’t have broad appeal."

There is also a quote regarding the UFC's relationship with SpikeTV and its effect on whether or not the UFC can attract more advertising:

But even Spike’s gaudy ad sales numbers also have a downside to some ad buyers. As a sports programmer, some ad buyers consider Spike a niche player that operates outside the typical sports mainstream. Some say they would buy on the network only if they wanted to hit the young male demo, which, by definition, is not mainstream. Spike has a contract to buy UFC programming through 2011.

"That certainly plays a part in whether we advertise or not," said Carat’s Mike Law, who does not advertise in UFC programming. He said his brands don’t fit the young male demo well enough to warrant making a purchase.

"There’s still a lot of concerns over content," Law said. "It primarily has a different set of advertisers than my clients are used to being with."

Here's my question: Why should the UFC care about a broader appeal of their product to demographics other than the 18-34 young males? I understand that there is more money out there to be made if you can somehow get housewives during the day to drool over UFC Knockouts Vol. 1, but that isn't going to happen. It's just an unrealistic goal for the UFC.

There are plenty of sponsors out there that appeal to the 18-34 demographic that can easily throw up some significant dollars for the UFC. Most notably, the UFC did land Bud Light, which is a significant catch. Sure, Nike and Pepsi would be unbelievable snags by the UFC, but the fact of the matter is that those sponsors appeal to a much broader range of demographics. That's the reasoning behind their reluctance to support MMA and the UFC.

What's wrong with the concept of having more 18-34 demographic sponsors cumulatively adding up to a large amount of revenue over having a powerhouse sponsor in Pepsi or Nike who will likely never sign with the UFC? I don't see the problem.

The UFC does have a limiting factor when it comes to broader appeal to advertisers, and many of those advertisers on the line about advertising on PPV's and on SpikeTV are too afraid to pull the trigger because "something might happen". I understand that, but does it really matter? The sport is continuing to grow at an enormous rate, and with all the buzz surrounding Brock Lesnar and the constant cycle of stories coming out of each weight class in the UFC, I fail to see how advertisers will be able to stay away.

It falls under the same opinion I have with mainstream media outlets. The UFC can't be ignored or hated on forever. There is just too much positive interest from fans in it to have writers continually bash it and alienate readers to going online instead of reading a sports writer's column. Same goes for advertisers. Eventually, bigger sponsors won't be able to ignore the droves of fans and the ratings that the UFC could potentially produce for long periods of time. Even if that doesn't end up being true, there will still be plenty of 18-34 demographic advertising opportunities to keep the UFC moving forward and making money.

Leland Roling covers MMA for bloodyelbow.com and his regular posts can be found here.