Mixed martial arts has taken the world by storm. It’s the fastest growing sport across the globe.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the largest MMA promotion company in the world. And it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with a planned ‘supershow‘ at New York’s Madison Square Garden this November.
Since its early conception in the States in 1993, UFC has come a long way. It hosts nearly 400 of the top-ranking fighters from all corners of the Earth and has a long list of licensees.
MMA began life in the circus sideshows of early 20th Century Brazil, as an exhilarating combat sport, Vale Tudo. By the 1990s the sport had migrated to the US and in 1993 it was standardised and introduced to the mainstream by Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter Rorio Gracie, founder of the UFC.
The popularity of UFC grew exponentially and today, as the brand surges throughout the European market, it enjoys recognition from a fanbase of athletes and consumers far removed from the sideshow spectators of its earliest years.
“JELC believes that the UFC has huge licensing potential as awareness of MMA as a sport and fitness regime grows across Europe and Russia,” Jane Evans, founder of JELC, UFC’s European licensing agency, told Licensing.biz.
“Knowledge and awareness about the UFC is no longer just in the US, it truly is a global phenomenon that has expanded in all four corners of the world.
“The UFC logo excites consumers who are fans of the sport. They recognise that the logo represents the best MMA organisation in the world, and with that they recognise key values such as discipline, respect and determination, that not only the brand stands for but also the athletes who represent it.”
UFC’s sincerity of shared principles, coupled with the sport’s sheer adrenaline value, has allowed the brand to expand beyond the remits of fight organising and into a plethora of licensing opportunities, from video games to training gear.
“Initially the interest was directed towards the events that the UFC organizes, its core business,” Evans commented.
“However, as the sport gains popularity, this interest is transcending to various sectors, DVDs, video games, apparel, training equipment and much more.
“The most successful licensees of the brand are DVD distributors, video game producers, publishing houses, training equipment and clothing.”
And the popularity can be measured.
In 2012 the video game UFC Undisputed 3 took the top spot on the UK games chart, while the sport’s biggest swing at the mainstream, the 2011 UFC centered film Warrior, took nearly £10 million at the UK box office.
Statistics such as these have undoubtedly helped place the brand’s majority owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta among the Forbes billionaire list, while demonstrating the importance of the UK to the UFC’s European campaign.
“The UK is definitely one of the most important markets in Europe for the UFC,” stated Evans.
“The UK has seen numerous events being held over the past few years, helping to raise its popularity.
“Other markets that are quickly developing are also Eastern Europe and Russia. Scandinavia is also extremely popular.”
As well as its entertainment properties, UFC also has its own gyms, training equipment and lifestyle apparel.
“The lifestyle apparel was launched in the UK and across Europe in October 2010 with the first mainstream adopter being JD Sports,” said Evans.
“It’s now sold through all major sporting goods retailers in the UK and through catalogues and online retailers.”
However, bringing the UFC brand to the mainstream hasn’t come without its struggles.
“The main challenges for a relatively ‘new’ sport such as MMA are the comparison to national sport such as football,” added Evans.
“There are still some misconceptions as to what MMA represents. However, the UFC has done a very good job in education stakeholders and media.”
And as this change in perception towards the sport sweeps the market, JELC looks forward to a future of significant licensing potential.
“UFC is currently developing a range of training clothing which will be made available through its global licensing partners over the coming year. We are exploring new categories as the licensing potential is infinite. Training and fitness is definitely a key area for us along with lifestyle,” concluded Evans.
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