The UFC Continues to Fight for a Global Brand at UFC 122 in Germany
The Ultimate Fighting Championship has certainly made a push for mainstream relevance in the United States over the last five years, but its struggles in other markets has put a bit of a damper on notions of MMA’s global domination. Asia has been a difficult nut to crack regarding its two main focuses — China and Japan. Dealing with the entrenched Establishment has forced the UFC to push expansion in other areas.
The UFC made its first endeavor into Europe in June of 2009 with UFC 99 in Cologne. Although the event itself went off without a hitch, the German press’ sensationalized criticisms of mixed martial arts began a domino effect of problems for the UFC. One of the largest and most influential newspapers in Germany — Bild — ran a story with the headline, “Calls to ban the ‘insanity’ of brutal cage fighting in Germany.” Aside from being harshly biased towards the sport, the article also made several erroneous statements regarding the UFC’s rules: “Anything goes in the UFC, which has similar rules to the brawling in the hit film ‘Fight Club’ – stamping, punching, choking and throwing are allowed, only biting and eye-gouging is forbidden.”
Along with the critical media, fans were required to show photographic identification to gain admittance to UFC 99 as minors were banned from viewing the event. A television deal set to air the promotion on the Bavarian network DSF was pulled, removed by the TV licensing authority. The UFC quickly filed suit, claiming the licensing authority — BLM — improperly removed the television deal. The UFC was forced to get a bit creative with distribution. UFC Managing Director of International Development Marshall Zelaznik explained, “We were able to secure one of the leading sports websites (in Germany),” he said. “The group is called SPOX.com, they’re I think the number two or three most trafficked German language sports website, so they have become our sort of official German language partner for (UFC 122).”
UFC 122 will be available on both SPOX and its own German language site free of charge and will be available for free on Spike here in the US. A small price to pay to get a foothold into the European marketplace. Growing pains are evident when you look at how poorly UFC 99 did in sales. Held at the Lanxess Arena, UFC 99 only reached an attendance of 12,854 people, brought in a live gate of $1.3 million, and only fetched a return of $360,000 in pay-per-view dollars. Compared to October’s UFC 121 held in Anaheim, California which saw an attendance of 14,856, a live gate of $2,237,000 and a buy rate of $1.05 million, it’s easy to see there is still progress to be made. While UFC 99’s numbers pale in comparison to other stateside UFC events, hosting these less star studded events abroad is an essential step in achieving broader appeal.