'Fighting for column inches' is an old saying from traditional print media, and usually stems from how valuable a particular article is to a publisher in terms of commercial viability. In other words, is the story going to grab the attention of someone and get them to drop some coins on the issue it is featured in, or is it merely just filler?
When it comes to the niche sport of MMA, even with UFC as one of the fastest growing global sports brands in the last 7 years, there has to be good enough reasons for mainstream media outlets to give them any kind of coverage. And as far as the Top 10 national daily newspapers in 2012 Great Britain is concerned, the UFC doesn't measure up ... for the most part.
According to thepaperboy.com, the following are the top 10 UK newspapers by daily circulation, and I'll be breaking down how these papers' online portals have covered the UFC on Fuel Nottingham event that's on later today, their UFC coverage in general, and their reach locally on the world wide web.
1. The Sun (2,751,219 est.)
Britain's biggest tabloid used to have Michael Bisping as a guest blogger when UFC were at their peak in interest in the UK, and had a section online dedicated to the emerging sports league.
In 2012 coverage has been minimal, with UFC on Fuel 5 achieving just 3 related online articles: a short article on Dan Hardy returning to Nottingham was posted at the beginning of September, while two other articles posted on the 14th and 21st September only have a UFC link when Brit fighters John Maguire and Jason Young turned up to the Leyton Orient and Nottingham Forrest football (soccer) grounds to do some small PR with the sports teams respectively.
Prior to this, only superstar Georges St. Pierre has pushed the needle for The Sun's UFC coverage, and even then that's partly related to his endorsement with the Limited Edition Sleeping Dogs videogame, and claiming he wants to be the 'David Beckham of MMA'.
Quite simply, The Sun doesn't care about the UFC on its own merits, and shows the importance of piggy backing coverage of the UK's most popular sport. Interestingly The Sun does have a dedicated Pro Wrestling section, covering both WWE and TNA Impact, as well as focus on Golf and occasionally Formula 1.
2. Daily Mail (2,011,283 est.)
A right leaning, conservative tabloid often known for exaggeration and sensationalism when it comes to covering news / the perceived downfall of British society, it is none the less the second most popular daily paper by circulation.
Its most recent UFC related story is with regards to former Manchester City football club chief executive Gary Cook joining the UFC as the company's new executive vice president and managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, a position formerly held by Marshall Zelaznik. Dave Meltzer has more on that story over at MMA Fighting.
Dan Hardy got a few short paragraphs in the Boxing column, comparing his return to fight at Nottingham to that of Carl Froch fighting on home turf and how like Froch, Hardy looks to redeem his image after a succession of losses snapped only by his last fight against Duane Ludwig.
Outside of that, though, UFC only gets mentioned in the Daily Mail when Arianny Celeste is either in a swimsuit or in a domestic disturbance, as well as when Jason Miller broke into a church, vandalised it and was found naked by police (sadly an act more significant than his entire UFC career as far as media coverage is concerned).
The Daily Mail online is also the most visited UK newspaper website globally, dwarfing all the others in reach and page views according to alexa.com
Typical of tabloids that love bad news and controversy, UFC tends to only get mentioned in the Daily Mail when something big goes wrong regarding its stars. Football coverage dominates again here, while Golf's Ryder Cup is getting a good amount of coverage as well.
3. Daily Mirror (1,122,563 est.)
A tabloid more similar to The Sun than The Daily Mail, it has just half the number of daily readers when it comes to the newspapers. The Mirror's UFC and MMA coverage online though is the best of the tabloids currently, with around 24 UFC and MMA articles posted this month, and actual sections / tagged categories for both UFC and MMA. However it has just one article so far for the UFC on Fuel event, focusing on the giant 'Skyscraper' Stephan Struve in its headline.
Still, its coverage of both UFC and MMA is more in depth than its contemporaries above and below it, and goes as far as to cover Cagewarriors FC, Britain's longest running and consistent MMA promotion.
Football (soccer) and Golf otherwise dominate the sport's section, though Formula 1 and Tennis have also been given a good amount of space.
4. Daily Star (624,029 est.)
What could be called a lesser version of The Sun, it sells less than a quarter of issues each day on average by comparison. Online it's not as in depth as The Mirror when it comes to UFC coverage, but has upped its content in the last couple of days with their most recent being a Dan Hardy headline piece published today. Dan Hardy was also the centre of an article on September 18th, otherwise coverage has been on Michael Bisping for his fight with Brian Stann at UFC 152.
With just 5 articles this month, 1 in August on Dan Henderson, and a handful in July on only the biggest UFC names (and some of it only because of a soccer tie-in), The Daily Star's interest in UFC is minimal with no dedicated section for it, and zero coverage of other MMA promotions. The Daily Star's sports focus is on Soccer, Rugby League, Horse Racing and Motor Sports.
5. The Daily Telegraph (596,180)
The first broadsheet in this list, The Daily Telegraph prides itself on the claim its Britain's best quality newspaper, and has a conservative lean. Though it only sells about 20% of daily editions compared to The Sun, it is a generally respected newspaper.
Journalist Gareth A. Davies has been plugging away with his coverage of UFC online and has managed to work his way into Dana White's inner circle of trusted press, scoring the occasional video interview with the UFC president, or even many of the top stars in the promotion. Davies also covers Boxing, and has helped raise the standard of coverage for The Paralympics in general over the last few Olympic cycles.
Though rarely covering other promotions in MMA, Davies puts out the top UK based UFC content as far as quality in newspapers are concerned. Davies is at UFC on Fuel in Nottingham covering the event live.
6. The Daily Express (586,707 est.)
Sister publication to The Daily Mail, its online presence shows UFC and MMA coverage is dead, with 4 total stories regarding UFC: 2 stories in 2011, 1 in 2010 and 1 in 2007. Considering the demographic it attracts and its small circulation, it's not worth the UFC's time to court any kind of coverage here.
7. The Times (405,113 est.)
Britain's most famous broadsheet paper has fallen out of favour in recent years, possibly due to its switch to tabloid sized issues not appealing to broadsheet newspaper purists. Owned by Rupert Murdoch since 1981 (who also owns The Sun), the paper is still generally respected for its content, though not as much as The Telegraph. Like The Telegraph it has a conservative lean, though comes with the Newscorp baggage.
Its online section is subscription only, and UFC coverage is generally nil.
8. Financial Times (319,757 est.)
Think 'Wallstreet Journal' for the UK, and you're not far off from imagining what this business newspaper is about, though it is one with significant global circulation as well. As you can imagine, UFC coverage is minimal and would only focus on the business side, such as IMG, the New York based sports and media business that sometimes works with UFC for staging events in different parts of the USA. Financial Times online is subscription only.
9. Daily Record (276,003 est.)
Scotland's best selling newspaper, its popularity is enough to make the UK's Top 10 list. UFC only gets mentioned recently in an article about the most awaited videogames for 2012, and even then its only a passing reference to EA in general. Otherwise UFC gets wrongly used as a term for MMA when the Daily Record glancingly mentioned a female fight from Asia broadcast on the BBC in an article predominantly to do with politicians and TV sports rights coverage. UFC might get mentioned with interviews with action film directors such as Gareth Evans regarding his movie 'The Raid', or how 'UFC training' might help celebrities get in shape.
Scottish Premier League football (soccer) and Ryder Cup Golf is the focus of the Daily Record's sports coverage, but that's to be expected.
10. I Newspaper (243,321)
The stripped down, digestible version of The Independent, is a popular newspaper for the more left and liberal leaning demographic. UFC coverage of the Independant online is minimal, though Alexander Gustafsson did get a feature in April for the UFC in Sweden show. Otherwise it's 'UFC Related', such as E3 videogames coverage, and a single feature in the business / money section about an entrepreneur setting up and investing in an MMA gym in the South East of England.
Football, Ryder Cup Golf, Rugby and Cricket comprise The Independent's sport section.
Online Ranking for UK web Traffic
As mentioned earlier, The Daily Mail is miles ahead of the competition with regards to its online presence, but how does it stack up for UK specific web users? (Information by Alexa.com)
1. DailyMail.co.uk (ranked 13 overall in UK web traffic)
2. Telegraph.co.uk (ranked 20 overall in UK web traffic)
3. TheSun.co.uk (ranked 45 overall in UK web traffic)
4. Independent.co.uk (ranked 77 overall in UK web traffic)
5. Mirror.co.uk (ranked183 overall in UK web traffic)
6. FT.com (ranked 185 overall in UK web traffic)
7. TheTimes.co.uk (ranked 652 overall in UK web traffic)
8. DailyRecord.co.uk (ranked 797 overall in UK web traffic)
9. Express.co.uk (ranked 963 overall in UK web traffic)
10. DailyStar.co.uk (ranked 994 overall in UK web traffic)
Considering the Top 10 UK web traffic rankings routinely consist of global powerhouses Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia (as just 4 examples), The Daily Mail's online reach and rank for UK web traffic is significant. However it's hard to imagine The Daily Mail covering UFC or MMA to any great margin, as most visitors are interested more in the current affairs and celebrity gossip more than anything else.
Interestingly The Telegraph does a lot better online than its daily newspaper circulation would indicate, making the work Gareth A. Davies does for UFC coverage all the more important.
However with The Sun being the third best of the newspapers mentioned for online rank and reach, as well as the top selling newspaper reaching nearly 3 million unique daily sales, the UFC could do with a more concentrated effort for coverage in The Sun here if it ever hopes of keeping brand interest alive beyond the very small niche it's currently in.
An x-factor not considered is how well The Guardian does as an online portal in the UK. It didn't make the Top 10 daily newspapers for circulation according to thepaperboy.com, however it is ranked 15 overall for UK web traffic, just two places above The Daily Mail. The Guardian is more liberal and left leaning than The Daily Mail, it also does far less sensationalising of stories and content, producing high quality articles and editorials. UFC coverage is almost non-existent, however they did employ the use of our very own Coach Riordan for help with the Olympic Wrestling coverage over the summer.
UFC requires consistent coverage in mainstream media here to keep any kind of footing it may have found when they put a more concentrated effort into building the UK market since making in-roads at UFC 70. The efforts of Gareth A. Davies in a respectable outlet is great, but clearly The Sun is a paper of the people's majority, consisting of a demographic that should by all means lap up what UFC has to offer.
Considering The Sun used to cover the UFC in more depth, the scaling back indicates a lessening casual fan interest, possibly caused by a perceived abandoning of the market by the UFC, as well as mediocre at best performances in UFC's UK television deals to date.
UFC on Fuel in Nottingham is a solid card for the UK, perhaps the best card since UFC 85 headlined by Matt Hughes vs Thiago Alves (replacing the originally planned Chuck Liddell vs Rashad Evans), but the little media buzz it's generating outside of MMA specific outlets is telling of the UFC's perceived worth as a sport's brand here in Great Britain.
If UFC can work to achieve consistent coverage in these media outlets, it can help maintain fan interest which could possibly build to demand for a better television deal in the future, with ESPN UK's 1 year contract extension coming to an end next Summer.
UFC doesn't have to bring title fight calibre cards to the UK, but it does need to bring more frequent cards to make media interest worthwhile. While it's true certain areas of the USA and Canada get less visits by the UFC than the UK has, fans on the mainland aren't separated from North American UFC events by thousands of miles of ocean, requiring the much larger expense of international air travel versus domestic.
The UK is still the gateway to Europe economically and logistically for the UFC, with its incredibly large and busy Heathrow and Gatwick airports serving as a network hub of travel for destinations the world over. The UK is worth investing in, but it's up to the UFC to do more to cultivate and maintain interest on a regular basis.