Success By Affiliation: Outside Leagues Benefit From UFC Eminence

By paulalehman
Dana White
Jake Roth – USA Today Sports

In the 1930’s, the trickle-down theory was meant primarily in jest, scoffing at the irony of making the wealthy richer in hopes of shekels making their way into the hands of the more needy. But in some instances, trickle-down economics does work in a very real, very lucrative manner. These days we know it now as riding coattails.

Since its inception, the UFC has enjoyed widespread and accelerated growth within and outside of its target demographic. In 2008, Forbes listed it as having a net worth of “$1 billion-plus.” That figure was calculated before superstars like Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar arrived on scene, before the company bought out Strikeforce and WEC, and before the deal with Fox. Economists are safe in supposing the company has tacked on another billion to its value. What those numbers truly indicate is a loyal and growing fan base, and perhaps the best endorsement of the UFC’s success is the potential it breathes into other arenas (literally).

The most developed of these offspring leagues is Bellator MMA. Last year, Bellator made the jump from MTV2 to Spike TV. The result was a 400 percent increase in viewership from the previous two seasons on MTV2. In an interview with ESPN’s Josh Gross, Spike TV president Kevin Kay indicated the network was willing to take a chance on Bellator because of the success it had before playing host to UFC matches.

Even closer to home, there is a kind of success that no other professional sports league, with the exception of soccer on a good year, has been able to tie down: the growth of a corresponding women’s division. The women of UFC have risen in viewership alongside their male counterparts, so much so that when the UFC’s reality TV series TUF makes its Fox Sports 1 debut in September, the show’s 18th season will be the first to feature female coaches—Ronda Rousey (who had a cameo in Season 17) and Cat Zingano—and female competitors.

But the UFC and Fox Sports 1, a network launching simultaneously for the first time, are so confident in the growth of the women’s division, they have decided the show will anchor the network’s prime time UFC programming block Wednesday nights. Compare this to the in-and-out of consciousness of leagues like the WNBA, a league that is lucky to gain enough traction to maintain viability for over 5 years.

Some league coordinators are so impressed with what the UFC has done, they are banking on an alliance with the Fertitta brothers to resurrect a waning sport. Last month, the International Olympic Committee announced it was dropping wrestling from the 2020 summer games. The decision was widely criticized, since wrestling is considered by most to be one of the oldest competitive sports, and a coalition was formed called the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling.

At the end of May the IOC will meet again and the decision can be reversed. Regretting having not pushed harder for wrestling the first time around, the CPOW is planning a new plan of attack. Its first strategy: form an alliance with Dana White. “Wrestling would be in the Stone Age if we didn’t recognize that the UFC is mainstream sport,” CPOW chairman Bill Scherr told ESPN. “And martial arts has already contributed, without formally trying, in so many ways to wrestling.” What better testament is there that you’ve reached an apex of success than for a sport with some resemblance tipping their cap in your direction?

Apex, of course, does not imply the UFC is done growing its own success. Still to come are takeovers of international markets—after positive response in Brazil, Australia and Canada, the company is on track to make entrance into India and China. Coattail riders best hold on tightly.

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