UFC Continues Aggressive International Expansion

via cdn2.sbnation.com

Since 2007 the UFC has run 22 events outside of North America. Zuffa has promoted fights in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Abu Dhabi and Sweden and plans to return to Brazil later this month, the UK in September and Macau, China in November. Some of these efforts have been more successful than others with Brazil and Australia in particular having proven fertile markets.

Now the UFC has announced the next two countries they are targeting: India and South Africa. UFC president Dana White announced the moves yesterday after the UFC 150 press conference.

"We've been working on India. We're going into India. That's already done. We're already on television there and now we're gonna bring a live event there very soon," White said.

"We're about to launch a deal down in South Africa. Actually, mixed martial arts is huge in South Africa right now. There's a show down there now that I just heard about that's doing 1.2 million views every time out. The sport is booming all over the world and yes, South Africa's next. That's where we're going," White added.

More context and analysis from Mike Chiappetta, the Sports Business Journal and MMA Payout after the jump...

Mike Chiappetta of MMA Fighting has some context on MMA in South Africa:

The show (White) is referring to, Extreme Fighting Championship, has so far produced 14 events. According to a news report, a recent March event drew 1.6 million viewers -- 25.9 percent of the television audience -- a rating that beat popular sports like rugby and cricket.

According to the Sports Business Journal (subscription only) the UFC is doing very well in Brazil. with UFC 134 drawing 35 million viewers on Rede TV and The Ultimate Fighter: Brasil doing an average of 10 million viewers on Globo. The article also quotes UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta as saying that the UFC will do up to 20 events outside of North America next year and that 10% of the promotion's revenue will come from outside North America.

MMA Payout comments:

It will be interesting to see the success of the product in India and China. These two markets are very important for the UFC based on the sheer number of individuals in the respective (countries). The initial TV deal in India should help garner fans of the sport and TUF: India should do well based on the numbers of the Brazilian version. No word on a China TV deal as of yet, but it looks like November's Macau card will be big from a business standpoint.

In my mind the biggest question mark is where the UFC will find top-tier fighters to fill up an additional 20 cards per year. This year has already seen the UFC watering down its cards with marginal talent and that's reflected in the falling ratings on Fox, FX and Fuel although PPV numbers have been reasonably steady.

Of course UFC 147 in Brazil is expected to be the weakest PPV since Zuffa took over the promotion a decade ago.

Note that the UFC is hardly even mentioning plans for European expansion now and that the UK is far from a priority. They've never been able to secure that key TV deal in the UK and the failure of British fighters like Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy to become champions has also limited growth in that market. Germany appears to be a complete loss given the TV censorship and the so-so response to the two UFCs held there.

The UFC visited Japan earlier this year but I'd be astonished to see them return in the foreseeable future. The MMA market has collapsed amid scandal there and there is very little prospect of a TV deal in Japan. The lack of a TV deal is what killed the UFC's plans to keep Pride alive in Japan in 2008.

I'm kind of surprised the UFC hasn't made any moves in South Korea, a large and wealthy market that saw a brief flurry of interest in MMA four or five years ago. The UFC has a few Korean fighters on its roster, notably Welterweight contender Dong Hyun Kim.

The UFC has big plans for Australia where they've got a TV deal with the fledgling FX network (it's new to Australia) and plans for a new international installment of The Ultimate Fighter called "The Smashes" per Yahoo!:

The Smashes series, which pits a team of Australian fighters versus a team from the U.K., will premiere this Spring on FX in Australia.

Filming for the show will begin in two weeks time at the TUF house located in Sydney.

Time will tell how the UFC's efforts in Australia, India and South Africa pan out.

Marshall Zelaznik, Managing Director of International Development talked to ESPN UK about the Australian fighters already selected for TUF: Smashes:

"We're just selecting some of the Aussie fighters who will meet the UK guys. There's some real talent, I sat through most of it and there was some really high level grapplers. The striking was impressive too, but the level of skill when it came to grappling was stunning.

"We're really happy with the group. We're about to announce the pool of fighters, we've got it down to 20, ten for each weight class. Then that gets shaved down to four per weight class because you only need eight fighters per country.

"We've done the tryouts a little differently, we put the net out, fished through them and then sent out exclusive invites to the guys with high calibre potential. That meant we've got the very best that are out here."

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