By Scott Hamm
If you have not heard of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) by now, chances are you will be hearing about it in the near future. After breaking into the mainstream with The Ultimate Fighter reality series in 2005, an analysis of online buzz shows that the UFC continues to make great strides in popularity.
Backed by cable television programming and monthly pay-per-view events, the UFC has steadily gained online buzz during the past 18 months. Since 2008, UFC buzz has trended upward and peaked with the UFC 94 event held on January 31, 2009, which featured a bout between Georges St. Pierre, the welterweight champion, and B.J. Penn, the lightweight champion.
The UFC's growth is actually even more impressive when compared against more well established sports leagues such as the MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL and NASCAR. When comparing the first six months of 2008 to the first six months of 2009, UFC online buzz jumped 93 percent and is the only sports organization to exhibit a double digit gain.
[caption id="attachment_1113" align="aligncenter" width="454" caption="*Buzz is compared from January 2008 through June 2008 (H108) to January 2009 through June 2009 (H109)"][/caption]
It is appropriate to ask how much of the UFC's increase can be attributed to a rise in popularity for its sport, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)? Looking at the same time frame, MMA mentions increased 41 percent, which represents stronger growth than other sports, but still illustrates that the UFC brand is growing at a quicker rate.
With most fight oriented sports, intriguing match-ups and promotions are key to an event's success. The UFC has done its best to "own" its sport by signing many of the world's top fighters and using its octagon-shaped cage as a key branding point. Beyond these elements, the UFC also utilizes its own president, Dana White, to be the franchise's most visible public figure. Although Dana White has received his share of heat for sometimes being too vocal, his name receives far more online buzz than commissioners from much larger sports organizations do.
[caption id="attachment_1110" align="alignright" width="422" caption="*Buzz is from January 2008 through June 2009"][/caption]
Another key to the UFC's success has been highly anticipated events featuring the sport's top fighters. To celebrate its one hundredth pay-per-view match, the upcoming UFC 100 promises to be one of the biggest events in their 16 year history, featuring a heavyweight title match between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir and a middleweight title match between Georges St. Pierre and Thiago Alves. Although the UFC 100 event won't be held until July 11, 2009, anticipatory buzz has already outpaced that of overall discussion for seven of the past eight pay-per-view events.
[caption id="attachment_1104" align="alignnone" width="462" caption="* Buzz is from November 2008 through June 2009"][/caption]
Becoming the "fastest growing sports franchise" is not an easy feat. Sustaining the same level of growth over time may prove to be difficult for the UFC, especially as competing MMA organizations such as Affliction and Strikeforce attempt to capitalize on the sport's success. However, with strong events on the horizon like the UFC 100, and increased coverage by the mainstream media, the UFC appears well positioned to continue its rise to the top of the sports world.