When people think about Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), the first brand they think of is UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). In fact, UFC has basically become the generic name for MMA, much like Kleenex for facial tissue. Much of this popularity is due to the success of Spike TV’s reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter, which first went on air in 2005 and is extremely popular with the elusive 18 – 34 guy (including yours truly). Basically UFC has made all other leagues seem bush league…something every brand strives to do.
This Saturday Night, UFC’s competitor EliteXC had a chance to change the game with a prime time feature on network TV with CBS Saturday Night Fight. It was a first for MMA since UFC has always been limited to cable (on Spike TV) or Pay Per View. EliteXC blew the opportunity though and further cemented UFC’s lead.
If you are a challenger brand, you need to make the most of your brand
EliteXC missed the opportunity because of simple branding mistakes. You see, when you are a challenger brand (ie in 2nd or 3rd place behind a huge brand), you need to make the most of opportunities. You need to show potential fans/consumers why your brand is better than the entrenched brand. EliteXC had the potential for this type of showing. They were on a national stage that UFC has never had (CBS vs Spike). They had stellar fighters lined up (Gina from American Gladiator and Kimbo Slice from street fighting fame). And most importantly, they had a much-anticipated title fight lined up.
But they screwed it up with poor branding missteps
Here are just a couple of ways EliteXC wasted their opportunity in the spotlight:
- Horrible brand positioning: Several times the EliteXC announcers referenced that a fighter was a former UFC fighter. While this isnt a negative in itself, it is when you position it the wrong way. EliteXC positioned the fighters as UFC has-beens…fighters that couldn’t cut it in the Octagon of UFC and had to settle for EliteXC instead. They should have instead said “X fighter was in UFC for 5 years, but now he is here to conquer the real fighters of EliteXC.”
- No brand personality in their people: UFC succeeds in part because of all the strong personalities that represent the brand. Dana White (UFC President) looks like he could be a fighter himself and is a guy MMA guys/fans can see havig a beer with. EliteXC doesnt have that. UFC has an announcer that people love in Joe Rogan, a real guy’s guy. Elite doesnt have that either. They have Frank Shamrock, a has been fighter who wasted color commentary talking about himself, not the fighters.
- Poor execution of the opportunity: EliteXC might have been able to overcome the above 2 if the show had been amazing and the fights were something to talk about. Unfortunately for EliteXC, that didnt happen. The first 2 fights of the night lasted 61 seconds and 70 seconds and were lackluster without a big knockout. Then the title fight, which Shamrock said could be “a landmark” and “put EliteXC on the map” turned out to be an absolute bust. After a minor poke in the eye of one fighter, the doctor called the fight despite both fighters wanting to continue. On TV you could hear the chants of “bullshit, bullshit” over this decision.
If you are trying to overcome an established brand, what you dont want to hear from your consumers is a chant of “bullshit” during your first time in the spotlight. It doesnt take a Brand Manager to know that about marketing.