If you had asked even the most avid boxing or kickboxing fan what MMA a couple was of decades ago, it is likely that not everyone would have known. Even though the UFC, the flagship championship for MMA, was established in 1993, it was far from being the worldwide phenomenon that it is now. Even now, when you consider the popularity if now demands, it seems to have been a meteoric rise from niche to mainstream, from obscurity to fervent acclaim and commercial acceptability.
In the early days of MMA, even before the UFC came into being, it was a sport with no exposure, a pastime considered unusual, and in terms of its commercial status, it was not what you could categorize as a hit. But how things have changed. With an estimated fan base, and a devoted one, of over 300 million fans spanning the globe, it is now alleged to be one of the most popular sports in the world. At this point, it is fair to say that this exciting blend of martial arts and general fighting has arrived on the main stage.
As is often the case when a new sport rises like a phoenix to soar the skies of global popularity, sports networks now embrace and cover it as standard. Even the bookies and online betting platforms are now on board, offering MMA fight odds, bets on individual bouts and all kinds of offerings. But how did it reach these dizzy heights and how is the exponential rise of online streaming and global coverage accelerated this surge to the top? It’s a good question, let’s have a go at answering it.
Online And On The Rise: MMA Making Serious Commercial Gains
It’s axiomatic, or at least it should be. For any business, be it sport or anything else, it needs advertising, marketing, and to be brought to the attention of as many potential audiences as possible. With the online world now ubiquitous, that is precisely what has been happening in the world of MMA and the UFC. To be fair, since starting in 1993, the UFC has been gradually gaining in both audiences and commercial status, but the ability to stream, advertise and reach global supporters.
When it comes to pure commercialism, the UFC is a fiscal behemoth. Let’s start with the purses that are now on offer for MMA winners. We all know how hard these professional fighters train, how physically demanding MMA training is, but how much is it all worth? Compared to world title boxing fights, it is still not in the same league. That said, it is a much more lucrative option than it used to be, and part of this is due to the online exposure that has led to its commercial explosion.
Superstars of this world such as Connor McGregor are not just household names, they are now among some of the top earners in MMA terms. When I say top earners, I mean in the multi-millions. Much of this can be attributed to the online streaming, revenue streams, and global accessibility that the internet has afforded. As commercial money rises, so do the purses, and as they rise, so do the professional opportunities. Even something as simple as streaming the UFC online to audiences without a necessary network television channel in their region can mean a commercial boon, not to mention the advertising that comes along when your audiences as so huge. It is, in no uncertain terms, a financially and commercially bright future for MMA. In some ways, it has traced the path of boxing, which itself was not the global sporting giant it is today when it was first seen on our screens.
From Social Media To Mainstream Media, MMA Is A Genuine Giant
Hot on the heels of the internet revolution, social media has now become a co-pilot in the success of MMA. It’s a multi-faceted situation which makes both engagement with fans as well as promotion of the sport both easier, and with a wider reach around the globe, and around the clock. Whether it’s Instagram, TikTok or YouTube, fighters can connect with fans, make bespoke content, deliver personal messaging and, in these ways and others, promote both their brand as well as the sport, be that simultaneously or individually.
From WWE to the UFC, combat sports and the professionals involved have combined the mainstream media with their social media platforms. To say this has been successful and continues to grow MMA is, perhaps, an understatement. From Jake Paul to Dustin Poirier, the number of social media followers is staggering, as are the viewing figures for the various video content that these superstars create, curate and publish. Views mean advertising revenue, which means more investment in the sport, which means growth. You see how this works, right?
Put simply, MMA, like boxing before it and Olympic inclusions such as kickboxing, is now a big player on the combat sport landscape. From obscurity to global dominance, it’s been quite the journey for this king of combat sports. As online exposure continues to explode, and both those who own and run as well as the individual fighters continue to use their social media and network platforms to build the brand, I suspect the sky is the limit for MMA both in terms of commercial success and global fan bases.