This Saturday’s UFC Heavyweight title fight between champion Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos will be beamed into every home with a television in the United State on the Fox network. It’s a big step into the public eye for the MMA promotion but before they square off, a further 9 bouts will air on Facebook. Not bad for a business that began as an SME proudly proclaiming itself as being “banned in 49 states“*.
*It wasn’t banned in any at the time, PT Barnum would no doubt have approved of their gumption.
It’s only apt fo social media broadcasts to play a role in the biggest night in the promotion’s history. UFC’s head honcho, Dana White, has just under 1.7 million followers on Twitter and has overseen an aggressive strategy to push the promotion through fan interaction. He gave fighters a simple instruction “I want you to Twitter your asses off.”
The promotion brought in professionals to help the 200 fighters on the roster learn how to use Twitter to engage with their fans and offers bonuses to those that maintain the most active Twitter accounts. In addition to this ready made army of celebrity/customer service tweeters, UFC uses a guest fight to tweet from each live event on the official UFC account. Most importantly, if you tweet a fighter on the UFC roster or even White himself you have decent chance at getting a reply. Albeit one that may be profanity laden. White provides updates during fight cards and regularly tweets his followers telling them to meet him at certain locations, with those that show up in line to win prizes.
Having conquered the Twitterverse, the promotion took to YouTube to build up hype and sales for fights. During the week ahead of a live event, White keeps a video blog on YouTube to bring fans closer to the fighters. With UFC’s chief revenue stream coming via pay per view sales, these diaries gave fans more reason to think about the individual event before making the decision to buy.
Cleverly enough, the views of non-traditional fans are also promoted on the channel. Last week Mandy Moore, a one-time child star now trying to make it as a sit-com actress, appeared on the channel giving her pick for Saturday’s fight. Moore’s appearance was treated with a degree of scepticism but she does appeal to a wide demographic, most of which will likely be interacting with the promotion for the first time on Saturday night.
The Facebook strategy has broken new ground for pay per view sports. Whereas UFC already showed some preliminary fights on cable TV ahead of the main card, the decision to offer free fights to Facebook fans gave UFC a more direct approach to their core market.
The lessons for other sports, indeed other businesses, from the promotion’s efforts are many. White saw an opening that many of his competitors weren’t exploiting or indeed were in no position to fully exploit.
Having long built events around an entire card rather than just the main event, UFC’s core audience was familiar with more than just the marquee products at the top of the card. Boxing, for example, has relied so heavily on its biggest names that building new stars can prove a costly exercise.
UFC’s diverse approach to its market, recognising the different levels of customer loyalty, enables it to have main event stars without hindering the development of emerging fighters. This has helped expand the audience by providing a constantly fresh look to the service on offer. This expansion was built around respect for the loyalty of its most die-hard supporters.
No matter what happens inside the octagon on Saturday night, the very existence of ‘UFC on Fox’ is a triumph for the promotion. It’s a celebration that will begin on Facebook.
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This post originally appeared on Simply Zesty.