With a fan base that is 46% female, a global reach of over 1 billion households and with the largest concentration of millennials of any sport the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to paraphrase one of its stars Conor McGregor “owns this town”.
The UFC through savvy use of media while also taking advantage of the fragmentation within the boxing world is rapidly becoming the number one global fighting sport. From an eGaming industry perspective the impact of UFC on other sports is significant and despite neither sport even considering the other as competition, I believe horse racing will feel the biggest impact.
From a commercial perspective both the UFC and Horse Racing are selling tickets to live sporting contests but with two key differences, the UFC has a full vertical integration of its product and they are masters at selling stories.
Using the power of stories, the UFC is able to achieve a huge free media exposure that transcends the sports pages or fight fan communities. The UCF 206 event in Madison Square Gardens achieved a global press and social coverage that a Grand National, Kentucky Derby or Melbourne cup can only dream of. The saturation this one UFC event achieved is significant and will only continue to grow in time as the popularity of the sport grows.
When we look at the fighters, the UFC fully trains all 200+ rostered fighters in social media, dealing with the press and building their own personal brand. The fighters provide a 24/7 level of access that millennials have come to expect (thanks TMZ) and do so while not having to follow a PR script. This level of realness makes not only horse racing look boring but also every other mainstream sport (Formula 1 I’m looking at you).
At an event level, apart from the pre-fight coverage, press conferences, open work outs and story telling (grudges, trash talk etc), on the day of the event, fans with tickets also have access to the “fan village” where they can meet fighters, Q&A sessions, watch the weigh-ins, and enjoy lots of MMA related entertainment, when you compare this to standing in the mud at the typical UK racetrack with no phone reception or Wi-Fi you can see why the UFC sells out stadiums.
At a simple fan level, just visiting the UFC website versus the major horse racing sites is a real eye opener. On UFC.com visitors can get all fight videos as well as all the latest news, press conferences, merchandise and everything else a fan could need. This type of content is given away for free and is readily re-published across the Internet driving a huge amount of publicity for UFC. On a typical horse racing site, I can get a race card a free bet offer and possibly buy a TV subscription.
From an eGaming industry perspective, horseracing acquisition particularly in the UK has focused around the Cheltenham Festival or Melbourne Cup in Australia. Horse racing is rapidly losing its ability to excite millennials to place a bet and we can start to see this reflected in new sportsbooks that either offer no horse racing or just paying lip service but with no focus on it. These newer companies without the legacy user base flag the direction of where things are going.
Before it’s too late the horse racing industry needs to learn how to sell stories not just trackside advertising space.