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MMA: UFC in 2014 - boldly going where no sports corporation has gone before

Push for global expansion continues

In the UFC, 2014 is the year of global expansion. Whilst most UFC events will continue to take place in the USA, the promotion have agreed to at least six events in Europe, 13 events in Brazil, Ultimate Fighter series in China and Brazil, and an Ultimate Fighter “Nations” Series pitching Canada Vs. Australia. With up to 50 events in the pipeline, the launch of UFC’s new Fight Pass online distribution platform, and various offices now open around the world, it is no secret what this year is all about for the UFC and the sport of MMA.

It is important that those unfamiliar with the UFC understand that UFC is not a sport, it is a promotion. The UFC is the world’s largest promotor of MMA, and it is because of the UFC that the sport of MMA exists today. The usual run of events in terms of achieving acceptance, popularity, then status of MMA in any market is that the UFC invest enormous amounts of time and money to achieve what they want to and other MMA promotions are able to take advantage of this after the fact. This situation is no different in that aspect; the UFC have already invested and that will give the sport of MMA an opportunity to grow worldwide. 

What is different however is the size and scale of the operation and hence, the risks associated with it. The difficulty is trying to take on so many different marketplaces all at once; their cultures, their laws, their media, their talent. The UFC are doing this whilst always having to ensure that the USA, which is far and away their most lucrative marketplace, remains satisfactorily serviced in terms of content, despite time differences and what I imagine will be lack of US promotion for International events. 

The new Fight Pass service goes some of the way to rectifying the content situation in terms of distribution. It allows fans to watch certain events live or at a time of their choosing as well as offering an enormous amount of exclusive content. It seems the ideal platform for the hardcore fan but could stop those on the cusp and also “flick through” television traffic from becoming more enamoured by this incredible sport. 

If carried out successfully, the global expansion would accomplish what many saw as impossible when the Fertittas and Dana White purchased the company in 2001 for $2 million. Now valued at over $2 billion, the UFC has brought MMA such a long way and its hardcore fans are unmatched. Global expansion is the logical next step, the only surprise seems to be the speed with which the UFC aim to achieve it. 

I would urge sceptics to have an open mind as to the UFC’s aggressive international plan. The company and the sport have overcome doubters in the past. 

UFC Fight Pass hosted its debut event on Saturday night in Singapore with Tarec Saffiedine defeating Hyun Gyu Lim by unanimous decision in the main event. Ratings are yet to be released in terms of viewership, so it is unclear as to the success of the free trial period of Fight Pass and its current reach. The first event that will be broadcasted Fight Pass under paid subscription is Gustafsson vs. Manuwa from the O2 arena in London. It is a fight with light-heavyweight title implications and will likely draw a good amount of fans to the service. 

Is it indeed possible for the UFC to produce the quantity of shows that they plan to whilst they maintain the quality that we have come to expect after an amazing 2013?

Is it possible to offer shows in primetime to geographical market places outside the US whist maintaining the size of the US market and revenue stream?

Is it possible for the UFC to go from nothing to the global powerhouse they want to be in their 21st year?

Is it possible to achieve all of this with the possibility of having lost the two greatest fighters of all time in Anderson Silva and GSP?

Does it work?

These questions will be answered. I for one, hope they pull it off.