December 21, 2012
Which professional sports league is benefiting most from social media? It would be hard to argue that it’s not the Ultimate Fighting Championship — which has put a heavy emphasis on social platforms as a way to grow and engage its fan base.
The UFC regularly offers bonuses during events for things like “best knockout,” “best submission” and “fight of the night,” but it also has taken the unusual step of offering incentives for its roster of fighters to be active on Twitter. The UFC decided to fully embrace social media for its athletes in 2011, going so far as offering bonuses for outstanding Twitter engagement and creativity. Now, every one of the 475 fighters with a UFC contract is on Twitter, with light heavyweight champion Anderson Silva amassing 2.8 million followers.
The tone is set at the top of the organization. UFC President Dana White has 2.3 million Twitter followers of his own, which dwarfs the 347,000 followers for National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell. White regularly uses Twitter to break news, announce upcoming fights, answer questions from fans and share content. He’s brash, honest, accessible and entertaining.
Of course there are perils associated with trusting a group of guys who get punched in the face for a living to always say the right things, but Twitter has proven a great way to build their individual brands and showcase their personalities — ultimately generating more interest in the UFC. And White has acted swiftly when fighters have gotten out of line with their comments — cutting Miguel Torres from the UFC, for example, immediately after an offensive tweet and establishing a zero-tolerance policy in the process.
But the UFC’s social media strategy goes far beyond Twitter. It regularly streams live preliminary fights exclusively on Facebook. Sharing real-time, live events makes for extremely compelling content, which has helped the UFC generate 9.8 million likes on Facebook. By comparison, the NFL — the undisputed heavyweight champion of the U.S. sports world — has 6.5 million Facebook likes.
This summer, the UFC ran one of the most successful Spotify campaigns of all time — allowing fans to vote for the walkout music for a pair of fighters. And, White claims that the UFC’s YouTube videos get more views on average than typical NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL videos combined. Pretty impressive.
You could’ve given me a thousand chances to try guessing the keynote speaker for January’s BusinessNextSocial conference in Las Vegas and I wouldn’t have come close to thinking of Dana White. But that’s exactly what he’s doing. As a fan and a marketer, I’ll be paying attention. Perhaps some of America’s other professional sports leagues should too.