Monday Morning Matchmaker: Steps to Build a Successful Promotion
One thing I want to make clear is that I am not writing this column because I think I know more than all promoters; far from it. I have made a lot of mistakes when organizing MMA shows so I have learned what not to do. But, I feel I also have a good idea of what works when trying to attract an audience. There are a lot of successful promoters out there and many have their own ways of doing things. This is just my opinion, nothing more.
One of the things you see often is a promotion come into town with a ton of money and spend it like crazy. Eventually, the money runs out and the promotion disappears. I am not going to name names, but if you have been around long enough, you have seen it plenty of times. What I am going to say now goes for newer promotions, not established ones like MFC or, in the older days, TKO.
FIGHTERS: When the promotion is first starting up, the key is to have as many local fighters as possible. This may seem like a no brainer, but you cannot have enough fighters from your area fighting on your show. In today’s MMA landscape, there are two types of fighters that sell tickets; established stars and local fighters. With big promotions around, it is getting more and more difficult to have established stars sign for your promotion. If the fighter is established (as in even the casual fan knows who he is), he is usually in the UFC or recently left the UFC and signed with Strikeforce (or another similar promotion). At the beginning of a promotion’s existence I would not recommended spending a great deal of money on fighters that have fought in the UFC, but the casual MMA fan is not familiar with. I will not use any examples because it would be unfair, but no casual fan cares about who Matt Hughes beat in his first fight in the UFC. So, unless he was a top contender or on The Ultimate Fighter, casual fans will not know who he is. Spending a lot of money on a fighter that will not sell you any tickets is not recommended.
When you are starting to establish your promotion’s name in your market, you need to have local talent. When a fighter fights in his hometown, he will definitely have a certain amount of friends, family and colleagues come watch this fight. Multiply that by the number of local fighters on the show and you are starting to build a crowd at your event before doing any advertising.
ADVERTISING: The key to your promotion is local advertising. You need to spend money in the newspaper and radio, but grass roots’ advertising is essential. Make sure every martial arts club in the area knows of your existence. Make sure your poster is in as many locations as possible. Try to get your community newspapers to write stories about your fighters. There are other inexpensive ways to get the word out and every little bit helps. Be creative and do not think anything is too small. There are people out there that want to see your event, but if they do not know about it, they will not buy tickets. Do not expect everyone to read about it on the Underground, either.
STAY SMALL-ISH: If you think you are going to be the next UFC, I can tell you that you are not going to be. Unless you have millions of dollars to spend, you need to first establish your brand before you can take that next step. Stay within who you are and take baby steps along the way. If you try to get too big, too fast, you will never get the chance to establish yourself because you will be bankrupt before you can. It is OK to invest money at the beginning to build up a brand, but do not spend money foolishly.
GROW YOUR BRAND: The MFC has done a great job in growing into their brand. MFC fans still want to see local fighters, but MFC has become a brand where local fight fans know that they will always see good fights. Now MFC is established to the point where they can bring in the best talent at their disposal regardless if they are local or not. As your promotion evolves, it should go from establishing local talent, to getting your local talent to the next level (this is the point where it is OK to bring in an expensive ex-UFC star to match up with a local star) and then finally to a place where you can put on the best fights possible with the best fighters.
BUILD LOCAL STARS: One of the main successes of TKO was the ability of their fans to see their fighters establish from local to world stars. Not every fighter will become a UFC champion, but many fighters can have good careers fighting in local shows. I live in Montreal, so I saw it first hand. TKO did an excellent job in having their fighters become the heroes of their fans. Fighters like Georges St-Pierre, David Loiseau, and Patrick Cote become international stars, but TKO was also synonymous with guys like Steve Vigneault, Donald Ouimet, Stephane Vigneault, Stephane Dube, Thierry Quenneville, etc… As your promotion grows, you want your fans to grow with your fighters. That will always help you attract more fans to your show in the future.
COMPLACENCY: If you have one successful show, it does not mean your next one will be as successful. If you think promoting gets becomes easy, you are wrong. With experience, you can prepare better, but it is never an easy thing to run a show.
MMA is always evolving and you need to evolve when building your promotion. Do not be afraid to try new things and not get stale. But, the key to everything is making sure you have good fights where the fans want to come back. If they know they will always been entertained when seeing your product, they will want to come back regularly. Then is when the fun can happen.