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UFC’s King of the Ring

UFC president Dana White has over the past 11 years built the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts franchise into the fastest-growing sport in America. White last Monday spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead at a CTAM Summit breakfast session about the UFC’s success, its recent Fox Sports television deal and its desire to diversify its audience.

Multichannel News: Did you ever believe when you took over the UFC in 2001 that you would move the sport to where it is now?

Dana White: Well, I believed it had the potential to do it. You don’t know if everything is going to line up and work out the way you planned, but we thought it had the potential. When you think about it, this was basically our philosophy when we bought the business. The concept of taking two men, putting them in an octagon, and telling them they can use any martial art they want transcends all cultural barriers and all language barriers. It doesn’t matter what color you are, what country you come from or language you speak, we’re all human beings and fighting is in our DNA. We get it and we like it. It doesn’t have to be explained to us.

MCN: What were the marketing tactics you used to build the UFC?

DW: When we first started this thing, it was basically like any band or anybody who starts from scratch. We were literally traveling around the country in vans and flying. We would fly to one city and then go from city to city in vans, and we would go out and do PR and just promote. The thing was that this really spoke to 18-to-34-year-old males. Boxing was in a decline at the time and you couldn’t make the fights that you wanted to see. The thing about the UFC is in three to five rounds, you can kick, punch, elbow, knees, slam and go to the ground. There is no jabbing for 12 rounds and guys holding onto each other. And our content is perfect for all the different platforms.

When you think about streaming on your phone, are you really going to watch Pirates of the Caribbean on your phone? No. But you can watch UFC fights and the best knockouts of the day and a lot of clips and our stuff . So I think that’s how we really built the sport.

MCN: You now have a seven-year, $700 million Fox Sports TV deal that puts UFC content on FX, Fox Deportes and Fuel. Is pay-per-view — which is where UFC fights were first aired — still a major part of this business?

DW: Yeah. People always ask me about that. We are a PPV business. That’s what we are. We look at ourselves as a PPV company. The reason that we went after television and wanted to be on free TV is to build PPV and build the sport. Obviously you reach a lot more people on Fox than you do just on PPV, so it’s a way to build stars.

MCN: Are you satisfied so far with the performances that you’ve seen on the Fox networks in terms of the ratings?

DW: Well, I’ve got to be honest. I was a little cocky in the beginning and thought it was going to be a slam dunk. Nothing is that easy; everything is hard, you have to work at it. Our relationship with Fox has been fantastic, but there’s definitely some tweaks to be made and we have worked on that over the last couple of months. We’ve been in this deal with these guys for like seven months, going on eight months. So, yeah, we’ve definitely had some kinks but we’re working on it.

MCN: Whom do you consider competition for the UFC?

DW: We consider competition anything that takes the attention of 18-to-34-year-old males.

MCN: Within that 18-to-34 audience, are you as diverse as you want to be?

DW: No, we’re not. We’re not even close. Right now, Hispanics are what’s keeping boxing alive. [HBO] just did a pay-per-view show last month and they killed it. Hispanics will spend that money on Hispanic stars and, believe me, I am scouring South America right now looking for the next guy. Obviously, we want to reach everybody; we want to pull in as many people as we can, not only to make fans but viewers for pay-perview and for our television programs.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.