Launched in 1993, Ultimate Fighting Championship is best described as mixed martial arts. Athletes compete under the unified rules of MMA, combining five Olympic sports – boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, Judo and Tae Kwon Do – with traditional martial arts including Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, karate and kung fu.
UFC bouts take place in a specially designed fenced ring called the Octagon, across seven weight divisions, each with a single UFC World Champion.
To me, it sounds terrifying, quite frankly. But maybe this is part of its appeal – because UFC is already big in the US, and getting bigger across a range of territories.
The UFC produces over 20 televised events annually, is broadcast in 147 countries in 19 languages – including ESPN and Five in the UK – and reaches almost half a billion homes worldwide. There are also 25 live arena events around the world, meaning awareness of the brand is growing quickly. Notably, the firm says it is growing much faster in the UK and Europe than it did when it first came to prominence in the US. It sold over 30,000 tickets to the London events held in October and its TV ratings continue to rise.
This is underlined by a licensing programme which currently has 22 partners on board worldwide, and five across Europe including THQ, Topps, Jakks Pacific, RFE International and Fight for Fashion. Jane Evans Licensing Consultancy is representing the brand across Europe and in Russia.
“At the moment we are concentrating on our range of training equipment, our clothing line and the video games and entertainment sector,” explains the UFC’s Marshall Zelaznik. “However, we are always looking to build upon our current portfolio.”
Initial retail targets will include sporting goods retailers, mail order, mixed martial arts stores, department stores and online retailers. Indeed, UFC has already got off to a strong start at retail in the UK this year, with Jane Evans Licensing Consultancy handling a branded equipment deal with Argos, as well as JD Sports stocking UFC t-shirts and hoodies for the first time.
“With all this happening in the UK market alone, we feel we have achieved more than we thought possible at the beginning of the year,” Zelaznik continues. “This will be replicated across Europe as we head into 2011. There are a number of misconceptions about the UFC, so when we enter a new territory we begin by teaching consumers about the sport before they become engaged with the brand and, ultimately, the merchandise.”
And there’s no doubt that the team at UFC has strong ambitions for the future. “UFC is the fastest growing sport in the world and it grows more rapidly than any other sport in every territory it launches in,” Zelaznik points out. “With that in mind, in five years’ time we firmly believe the UFC’s brand of MMA will have taken its place among the very biggest brands in the sport.”