THE RISE OF THE UFC’S POPULARITY
Last year, UFC president Dana White created some headlines when he stated the UFC’s popularity is bigger than the NFL.
“Globally, we’re already bigger than the NFL,” White told the Wall Street Journal. “We’re neck-and-neck with soccer. Soccer isn’t huge here in the United States, but all over the world it is. The only other thing that could work is fighting. ”
While many questioned White’s statement, it still holds true. While the NFL is bigger in the U.S., it doesn’t compare to the popularity the UFC delivers worldwide. Ever since Zuffa LLC, headquartered in Las Vegas, purchased the UFC in 2001, worldwide expansion has always been a part of their master plan.
It was 2007 when the UFC’s popularity really began to take the world by storm. Opening a full-time office in the UK, the UFC began to stage regular events not only in the British Isles, but mainland Europe, Australia, China, Canada and all points in between. Recently, the UFC announced 2014 plans to break further into their global market with events in Scotland, Sweden, Germany, Turkey, Poland, Ireland, China, Singapore, Brazil and Indonesia.
A Game-Changing Moment
The UFC had been the #1 pay-per-view provider in the world since 2006, but the Nov. 12, 2011, debut of the UFC on the FOX network confirmed the league’s place as a television juggernaut alongside the traditional “big four” U.S. sports (football, baseball, basketball and hockey).
For the first time, UFC events were available on free-to-air broadcasts in the U.S. The historic first UFC on FOX card saw Junior dos Santos KO heavyweight king Cain Velasquez in just 64 seconds. It was the most- watched fight of any kind in over a decade.
This year, Fox launched its Fox Sports 1 and 2 channels with the UFC playing a major role in its programming. White called the move a game-changing moment.
“This is such a great day for us, I can’t even begin to tell you,” White told Yahoo! Sports back in March. “This is a massive step. I said a year-and-a-half ago when we did this deal that our next two years of work would be more important than the first 13. And now, it’s always clicking and all becoming a reality.”
And the Survey Says…
Recently, a Scarborough survey reported by the Sports Business Journal confirmed UFC’s popularity among avid fans of boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts. The survey polled 200,000 residents between the ages of 18 and 77 in the country’s biggest markets to find out how avid fans are to their particular contact sport.
The surveyed determined that of the 48% of the U.S. male population, the UFC (74.6% of males polled) was the most popular sport among males. Boxing placed a close second (72%) followed by the WWE (62%). And as expected, the UFC was very popular among men ages 18-44.
In the same survey, 5.1% of the U.S. population indicated that they are avid UFC fans. Not surprising, the UFC fan base is comprised of a younger demographic while boxing skews to the older generation.
In a recent survey done by the sports marketing research firm Repucom, the number of MMA fans worldwide stands at 300 million, which is more than Major League Baseball’s worldwide fan base.
Greatest Feud Ever
For two years, the rivalry between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen captivated the world.
Sonnen’s penchant for colorful statements turned what was originally just another fight into the must-see event of the summer in 2010. Sonnen taunted Silva relentlessly. The match, which headlined UFC 117, was amazing, with Silva snatching a last-round submission victory after getting dominated for four rounds. The rematch, at the epic UFC 148, became the single biggest fight in the sport, with Silva once again emerging victorious after struggling with the fearless Sonnen.
Like Silva and Sonnen, the UFC’s roster of diverse fighters with vast personalities plays a major role in the UFC’s popularity.
Other high-profile fighters include:
● Georges St-Pierre – The biggest UFC pay-per-view draw and welterweight champion, GSP began training in martial arts at age 6 after begging his father for lessons to help deal with a schoolyard bully. For several years, GSP has been the #1 ranked welterweight in the world.
● Jon Jones – As the most successful UFC light heavyweight champion of all time, Jones can claim to be the greatest fighter in the world. Jones has defended his light heavyweight title a record six times.
● Cain Velasquez – A first-generation American who inherited his relentless work ethic from his Mexican father, Velasquez stands atop of the UFC’s biggest division.
● Ronda Rousey – The first and current UFC women’s bantamweight champion who skyrocketed to superstar status, Rousey cemented a female’s place in the UFC with an exciting title win over Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 in February.
As far as the internet and social media, the UFC also connects with tens of millions of fans through its website, UFC.com, as well as social media sites Facebook (11.3 million “Likes”) and Twitter. UFC president Dana White is considered one of the most accessible and followed executives in sports, with over 2.7 million followers on Twitter.
UFC in 2014 & Beyond
According to White, the organization plans to host close to 50 worldwide events in 2014, and unveil a new online/digital network that will be the exclusive way to watch some of the UFC’s international events.
“I think we’re going to do closer to 50 (events next year),” White told MMAjunkie in November. “In building this business and growing this sport, there are all kinds of challenges. We’ve dealt with just about every challenge you can deal with, and I’m sure we’re going to find new ones that we never knew existed going into these other countries.”
The UFC’s 2014 schedule will include:
● 13 Pay-Per View events
● 4 UFC on FOX fights
● 14 live events on FOX Sports 1 (including two TUF Finales)
● 4 live events on FOX Sports 2
Prelims for Pay-Per-View shows will air on FOX Sports 1.
With their 2014 agenda taking shape, the UFC continues to be “fastest growing sports organization in the world.”