Another Bump to MMA Mainstream

Posted: January 26, 2011 in Local MMA, Marketing, PR, UFC

So, here I am with another ‘MMA is not mainstream‘ post.  Unfortunately, even I am beginning to think I’m a Debbie Downer on this subject.  With high ratings, major sponsors jumping on board, prime-time TV spots and a cornucopia of celebrity spottings and I still say we’re not there yet.  Why?

Because of conversations like the below.

I was recently pointed to an ESPN Chat with Bill Simmons.  For those unfamiliar, ESPN will often host online “Chats” in which fans can pose questions to its sports authorities.  Simmons, known to most as “The Sports Guy,” is generally known as a basketball fan but does tackle most mainstream sports (NFL, MLB, etc).  During last week’s chat (linked below) MMA was discussed.

The result did not make me particularly happy.  Now, I realize that not every reporter will know this sport in and out – nor do I expect them to.  However, for a sport to have that “Mainstream” status, we need mainstream reporters to know what they are talking about.  My big take-aways from this chat were:

  • If Bill can still only turn to Chuck Liddell as his UFC “go-to” then perhaps GSP is not the savior we thought he was
  • The price of PPVs (monthly) is still far less than most fans spend on baseball, basketball or football tickets. (At least here in Boston.)
  • If people (media or otherwise) actually think that fans don’t want this sport to become mainstream then we’re all doing something wrong.

A segment of the chat is below (If anyone decides to read the full piece, the MMA convo starts around 3:00):

Chat with Bill Simmons
Joe (Decatur, GA): The popularity of the UFC seems to have plateaued. Do you think it has reached its peak? What can they do to continue to grow?

Bill Simmons: The UFC has one problem: there’s too much turnover at the top level. On the one hand that’s good because you’re not tied to the fate of 3-4 guys like boxing is right now (and how boxing is being hijacked by this Pacman-Mayweather fight that just isn’t happening), but on the other hand, from a mainstream standpoint, there’s so much turnover that casual fans don’t gain any longterm familiarity with anyone. Chuck Liddell is a great example – right after he blew up and started popping up on magazines, someone beat him and his career was never the same. That seems to keep happening. Brock Lesnar was the latest. I don’t know if the sport is built that way – that anyone good can beat anyone else good on any given night, and you just never know – or if they just had bad luck. But they need a signature guy who can last for longer than 18 months AND connect in a mainstream way.

Bill Simmons: Follow-up to the last point: The UFC fans would argue that they don’t care about the mainstream, and that it’s much more fun to follow a sport that keeps you on your toes every month. And there’s something to that. They can grind out 12 PPV’s a year and because they keep coming up with new names, they’re never going to get stuck with an awful show. So I don’t know.

Rich (Columbus): Brock Lesnar is going to be back on cable TV for 10 weeks coaching The Ultimate Fighter. I hope you use this opportunity to warm up to the UFC a bit more.

Bill Simmons: I like UFC. The problem is that every month it’s a $55 pay per view on a Sat. night… that’s just a lot to ask from a casual fan. I wish the UFC and WWE allowed people to buy a package every January: 12 pay per views for $350, pay upfront.

Bill Simmons: And also: I’m married and my wife hates the UFC. So that’s a tough ask – every 4 Saturdays, a 3 hour pay per view of MMA. I can’t be the only person in this boat.

Ben (Zombieland): UFC – The flipside of the turnover at the top.. GSP has dominated for what feels like an eternity. He’s been too good, just methodically tearing apart his opponents. They haven’t found a compelling rivalry for him. Boxing and UFC should both mandate weight changes if you defend your title X number of consecutive times.

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