Disclaimer: This is my first real go at a fanpost and hopefully it won't be my last. I eagerly look forward to your feedback and constructive criticism. Or if you just wanna flame, flame away.
With the UFC running close to 50 events a year it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate one event from the other. I like many hardcore fans have become increasingly indifferent to the expanded schedule and struggle to find myself getting excited for individual events. The UFC has lost that big event feel that was so unique to it during the TUF boom era and the rise of stars like Brock Lesnar and GSP and as a result has seen buyrates and ratings drop as the promotion struggles to build new stars and break into new markets. In this series I will seek to identify the issues currently facing the UFC while proposing some interesting and sometimes unorthodox solutions.
Part 1: Identifying the Problem
So what's the problem? Some people will tell you there is no problem. The UFC has solid network and cable outlets in Fox and FS1, they are holding more events internationally than ever before and in more locales than ever before, and PPV, while seeing a dip in overall numbers, is still a solid revenue stream for the promotion. In 2014 Zuffa is going to run 50 some odd shows and they're going to make a healthy profit, and the outlook for 2015 probably isn't much different. The issue to me is that there's very little difference in those 50 shows they're running. It's all so homogenized and interchangeable that none of it becomes must see TV, and the watered down nature of most of these shows leave the ones I do watch feeling grossly unsatisfying. That's not to say there aren't events or individual fights that do manage to stick out from time to time, just that those seem fewer and farther between these days, in contrast to a time not so long ago when each UFC fight card felt like a can't miss, must see event. None of this is a recipe for continued growth in the sport.
The blame for this falls largely on the UFC's stale, homogenized and quite frankly lazy promoting. Everything is the biggest event ever, every fight is the most important of a fighter's career, everyone is a contender, a killer, a monster, a bringer of death and destruction. Nothing feels unique or special. For just about every event we get the same paint by numbers commercial with some irritating nu-metal track with stand and bang highlights of the fighters and Joe Rogan screaming the same hyperbolic nonsense over top. And it doesn't matter if it's a Fight Pass card from halfway across the world with a mediocre main event that next to nobody is going to watch or a marquee PPV featuring a slew of hugely important and relevant fights, it all ends up feeling the same. As a result of this lazy style of promoting, instead of creating a feeling that all 50 events this year are can't miss, I'm left feeling like I can skip this weeks "greatest ever" event because there will be another "greatest ever" event next week. This can really be felt in the run-up to truly great fight cards where in the past my friends and I would be buzzing for weeks about a big fight, now it's more like, "Oh, that's happening Saturday? I'll check that out, if there's nothing else going on."
The UFC could benefit from changing up their branding when it comes to promoting different tiers of shows, an idea I hope to dissect more thoroughly in a future fanpost. There needs to be a clear line between the A shows and the B shows and the C shows. In a world of 50 fight cards a year, not all of them can be can't miss and the UFC needs to do a better job of communicating what are the big must see shows and what are the ones you should tune into if you're just flipping through the channels on a weekday evening. The UFC promotes everything as top flight MMA and unfortunately that's just not true of all their shows and as such it's a message that starts to ring hollow after hearing it so many times. Many think this is just the art of promotion but truly good promotion has nuance and when you're promoting 50 shows a year as opposed to 15, that nuance becomes crucial. B and C level shows can be promoted as fun, action-packed shows where you can see veteran favourites at the end of their careers and prospects climbing the ladder to make the A shows. They don't have to be treated with the same gravitas as a huge event like UFC 175.
The other group that suffers from this kind of homogenized promotion is the fighters themselves. Fighters are presented as interchangeable archetypes, easily swappable, little to distinguish one fighter from the next. The UFC has a massive roster today in comparison to years past, and most of the fighters on that roster become meaningless names and faces because the UFC doesn't care to promote them as anything other than future contenders and trained killers. This is one area where the UFC could learn from a promotion like Bellator, where human faces are put on fighters, and we get to know them as people and not just as gym rats and "monsters". Something as simple as a 1-2 minute story on the fighters interests outside of fighting or their personal struggles before they enter the cage on fight night can do wonders for creating a narrative arc for a fighter that fans want to follow.
Zuffa prides itself on the power of the UFC brand and rightly so. To many fans it is synonymous with MMA itself. Do you even train UFC bro? There was a time not so long ago that all it took to put on a PPV that put up 300-400K buys was to slap the UFC brand on a poster and run to the money printing machine. In an age where there are 50 shows a year and diminished star power on the part of the fighters, that's no longer possible. If Zuffa wants the UFC to be a premiere global sports brand than they need to focus on the sports unique diversity and display that through all aspects of the promotion. The UFC can no longer afford to be one giant nebulous mass of fights. In future installments of "Rebuilding the UFC" I hope to put forward my own ideas, some small and easily implemented, some large and grand in scale, on how the UFC can grow into it's larger scale and international footprint.
What do you guys think? Is the UFC product too homogenous? Are there too many events? Is the promotion stale and lazy? What can be changed to meet the current realities?