Managing a fight organization is a complicated business. More things are going on behind the scenes than the average fan might think. Matchmaking, marketing, TV and pay-per-view deals, reality shows, budgeting, and dealing with fighters’ preferences and time schedules are some of many different issues the leaders have to manage.
I was fortunate to be able to speak with the President of the UFC Dana White and get some insight into running the business.
Fans tend to complain about certain fighter’s styles, but they also complain when fighters are released for various reasons. How does he deal with that?
“I found that our fans are going to b*tch about everything,” White said, and described their system as having a finger on the pulse of the MMA fan, sensing what keeps their interest alive. “We know what fights people want to see. We have different types of fights, ones that hard-core MMA fans are into, and then fights that break through, that spill over into main stream that people will PPV to see.”
How does he know what fans want?
“Because I’m the biggest [expletive] fight fan there is.”
Is he often faced with a dilemma such as Fighter A deserving a title shot because he beat a bunch of guys in line, but the fans are crying for Fighter B to get the next shot?
“When we have to deal with that (offering a fight), there are a lot of different factors that come into play,” White explained. “When did he last fight, injuries, suspensions, personal issues, so many different things.”
Apparently, things are more complicated than simply “deserves” or “not deserves.”
How important is the voice of the fans on the Internet? The power and influence of online social media is undeniable – Twitter, Facebook, MMA news websites, blogs, forums, etc. Fighters have been known to call out other fighters online, and soon after, the match is booked. However, Mr. White isn’t as concerned about the Web as we may think.
“I literally don’t read the internet anymore,” he said. “I used to go on all the time, but I’m just not into it anymore. I’ve shut myself off from that whole world.”
He went on to explain that he doesn’t feel that input from the Internet drove their business, but places like chat sites can breed negativity. He “shut off the minority,” and gets the majority voice through expanding and going off into television. White also isn’t impressed with online MMA journalism overall. These days, we find MMA news pages side by side with editorials, where bloggers write their opinions, analysis, and supposition about future match-ups, retirement, and signings.
“All you need to is to get some money, build a website and you’re an instant journalist,” he commented.
How much of a role should fighters take in promoting themselves on social media? How essential is it?
“I think it’s a positive thing. It definitely adds value, but a lot of fighters don’t have that skillset. It’s tough to do sometimes. It’s tough to interact with people on the internet – nameless faceless people who can say what they want without consequences.”
People’s time in professional sports is limited. White went on to say that no sport is really a career – it’s an opportunity. “Once their careers are over, you have to make the most of the opportunity. Engaging in social media is good if you have the patience and social skills.”
Fighters usually start building their ‘careers’ by amateur fights. There’s no set number, but fighters often have between one and eight amateur bouts before they go pro, or some jump right into a professional bout. It is often said that that amateur sports in general are about skill, while professional sports are about money and business.
“I think amateurs should get paid, too,” White said on the topic. “I think college football players should be paid, and basketball. A lot of revenue is being generated off their skill.”
He spoke enthusiastically about expansion. “The sport continues to grow!” he said. “We have TUF going off in all different countries. We’re creating new fans and bringing in new fighters. Fight Night is a way of building and cultivating. We see Fox and Pay-Per-view as being equal.”
In addition to talented athletes, marketing and the aesthetics of the show are very important. “As far as live events, we have two different components. The TV side is very important to us, and then the live show in-house. We’re trying to use better technology for production every time. Better sound systems, better lighting, screens, everything.”
As you can see, there’s definitely more that goes into managing a big promotion than what we perceive, and a lot of work that goes into getting two fighters into a cage.