There was a time before the Ultimate Fighter show successfully brought mixed martial arts into our living rooms, when the internet served as the only medium to keep up with the latest happenings with the sport. Since then a lot of progress has been made but even now, we still don’t see ESPN or regular news inserting fight results between NBA or NFL updates.A recent article on MMA Junkie really struck a nerve with me. President of the UFC Dana White, when asked about pirated UFC Pay-Per-View streams, stated “We’re gonna go after them, we’re gonna go after them hard, and we’re gonna hurt them”. Depending on where you sit, you may say this is a good thing or a bad thing. For me anyways it is a sign that the UFC is falling out of touch with their fans and making a mistake of epic proportions.
Let’s think back for a moment to a few years ago when the only way you could get your MMA news was to log on to favorite sites like Sherdog, MMAJunkie, and MMALinker. The only buzz the UFC made was with the underground crowd via word of mouth and internet social circles. Back then, the internet was still young, YouTube was nowhere in sight, and Ultimate Fighting was considered taboo by most standard measures of sport. Fast forward to the present, where mixed martial arts is sanctioned in all but a few states as a legitimate sport, Brock Lesnar is doing ESPN interviews, and the UFC is cracking the mainstream as the largest promotion with the fastest growing sport in the world. It’s easy to see why Dana White is trying so hard to protect the baby he re-built from the ashes of a dying business, but it would also serve him well to remember the outside the box thinking that got him to where he is today.
My proposal is simple, and should all but eliminate the urge to view a pirated broadcast by anyone: Release a live low resolution stream of the Pay-Per-View event free! It can be 320×240 or even 640×480 and should be hosted on the UFC website. Also show all Undercard fights and advertise the hell out of the entire broadcast by selling ad space to major sponsors. It would be very easy to go to a thirty second commercial between rounds and after all fights. With this strategy you are in effect monetizing and killing the problem simultaneously. The pirated versions are usually of low quality, cut out frequently, and expose you to potentially risky virus laden websites. No one will want to deal with pirated streams if a better alternative is available from the UFC directly.
At this point you might say, “But Ingo, no one is going to buy the Pay-Per-View if we release a free version”. The argument can certainly be made, but we can also look at the bigger picture and see how this could be a momentous opportunity to turn pirates into customers. By getting them onto your site, you can also expose fans to merchandising and offer a streaming UFC Pay-Per-View package with higher resolutions for a monthly fee. This should be less than the $45.99 price tag the Pay-per-views cost and may not include every Pay-Per-View event as part of the package. You can still host four major cards a year not part of the package deal that can only be seen via full price Pay-Per-View purchase. Those cards should be epic and in turn will have a large “buy-in” from customers who would otherwise be pirating your product anyways. And not to worry, the fans that are already buying your Pay-Per-Views regularly will not stop doing so as there is nothing quite like sitting around the TV drinking beers with your buddies watching two guys compete at a world class level.
So the real question is, has the UFC already forgotten where the major fanbase started and continues to live? ESPN is only now starting to provide some coverage to the UFC and regular news broadcasts do not even mention the likes of mixed martial arts. They should think long and hard how “cracking down” has affected the music industry and bands such as Metallica over the past ten years.
The internet is poised to be the greatest engine for marketing success in this coming decade. Perhaps the UFC should remember that before they bite the hands that feed them.