We heard quite a bit about the success of UFC 120. The event drew throngs of fans, and while the British fighters didn't shine, just being in prominent positions on the card shows how far the country's fighters have come. What we didn't hear much about was the UFC's fourth Fan Expo.
The previous events were great - as a fan I was impressed with the shows in Las Vegas and the support the UFC got from all the fringe industries connected to the sport. In London, it was a different story. I spoke to industry insiders, freshly returned from their U.K. experience about what can only be described as a disappointing event. Here is how one insider described the Expo:
The UK expo was noticeably smaller than the domestic ones. These shows rely on retailers, be it apparel, supplements, or gear, to provide content. Not many have overseas distribution, so you end up with a limited supporting cast due to business considerations.
At the last Las Vegas show I remember seeing guys like Josh Barnett and Gilbert Yvel just kind of wandering around. Legends who don't even fight for the UFC like Ken Shamrock were there. The UFC brings in many of the fighters, but at the American Expos, apparel and supplement companies bring in athletes too. That didn't seem to happen here.
It wasn't just opportunities for fans that were limited by comparison. People working in the MMA business also found the event less interesting and compelling. Some are having second thoughts about another foreign adventure. The support system just isn't in place for MMA brands to make meaningful deals in these new markets. At the shows in Las Vegas companies can network, make significant distribution deals, and sign new fighters. Those opportunities weren't really present in the U.K. While fans were willing to spend, and the show was crowded with people, the bigger, longer term opportunities weren't there.
It's unlikely the UFC will be deterred from trying further U.K. fan expos. More attempts will be made and if history is any indication, they should be more successful. However, market realities in the U.K. make mimicking the success of the North American fan expos next to impossible - for now. The UFC Fan Expo London was the last Expo scheduled for 2010. The UFC hasn't announced dates or locations for 2011.