UFC: Brand Us Mixed Martial Arts Standard

The increasingly successful Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, has put its planned branding campaign on hold as it grapples with how to integrate a competitor into its business.

The mixed martial arts (MMA) operator tapped Las Vegas shop R&R Partners--the architect of the "What Happens Here, Stays Here" campaign for Sin City--earlier this year for its first brand campaign and to serve as its general agency. Part of those duties included planning and buying. The agency then brought Carat on board to purchase national broadcast and cable time for the effort to be aimed at the male 18-to-34 demo, a move first reported by Adweek.

Billings for the account have been estimated in the $20 million range, contingent on the brand campaign launching--a significant upgrade from the $2.8 million UFC spent a year ago in measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

In the spring, UFC--the subject of significant programming on cable network Spike--purchased the Pride Fighting Championships, which has a heavy presence in Asia. It has been exploring how best to bring it under its umbrella.



R&R has completed the research, allowing it to lay the groundwork for the branding effort, which looks to establish UFC as the gold standard in the mushrooming world of mixed martial arts. News Corp. and MyNetworkTV, along with Showtime, are among the companies that have launched their own versions.

Before the would-be branding effort, the bulk of UFC's ad efforts had been call-to-action executions focusing on driving ticket sales and pay-per-view purchases for high-profile fights. While UFC has done these in-house, R&R is now involved. Ads have run on Spike, Adult Swim and ESPN--plus spot cable, where barter arrangements have involved MSOs offering some inventory, since they benefit from pay-per-view buys.

"Football is the NFL," said Paul McGuire, vice president, integrated media at R&R. "The ultimate goal is you don't say MMA, you say UFC. UFC represents mixed martial arts. It's kind of like Coke and Kleenex. You don't say, 'I want a soda,' you say, 'I want a Coke.' You don't say, 'I want a tissue,' you say you want a Kleenex."

McGuire added: "We're looking to maintain and increase our dominant role in the sport of MMA."

A signal of how much mixed martial arts has been growing: In May, ESPN reached a deal with a leading MMA Web site to link with ESPN.com, which now has a dedicated MMA section.

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