The UFC is the leading presence in the modern MMA world and has revolutionized the sport by creating a market for fighting and making it popular across the world. As recently as a decade ago, MMA was still seen by those unfamiliar with the sport as an underground activity. The UFC has influenced the combat sport more than any other company as it set the rules and standards for other MMA leagues. As a result of the UFC’s success, MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide. One of the keys to the sport’s success has to do with the fighter’s ability to use social media as an asset to connect with their fans and share their personality and life outside of the octagon.
Unlike many other major sports, UFC differs for the athlete as it is a completely individual sport. Showcasing their personalities is key for athletes to build a following and popularity, and social media platforms have afforded them the ability to communicate their true and authentic selves to the world. Because the athletes are not surrounded by a team to build their brand up, they are forced to take the initiative to create their own brand - which in turn, provides endless opportunities and creativity when it comes to delivering their message. This also makes the sponsorship and partnership aspect of this industry so unique in the way that athletes must prove their value through their social media accounts. Without the ability to attach themselves to a team account, they are reliant on themselves alone to highlight their achievements and create their own community.
The UFC knows people are consuming sports content across a variety of traditional and social media, so they have actively worked to show up through constantly evolving media platforms, using social media to their advantage to put their athletes on the map with existing and new fans. The league grew its social feed through a partnership with Snapchat back in 2020 with goal of targeting a younger audience. The UFC’s digital footprint has since branched out to news platforms like TikTok, focusing their efforts on promoting the sport and the athletes as they look for new ways to work more closely with the athletes, delivering higher quality content.
Harnessing Attention for Profit
The big names from the UFC that come to mind include the likes of Conor McGregor, Israel Adesanya, and up-and-comer, Sean O’Malley, but not just for their greatness in the ring. These athletes are also well-known for what they’re posting on social media, drawing in an audience that spans beyond the UFC fans. McGregor specifically was very successful in his use of social media, drawing hype for his fights that translated into heavily viewed programming. Now retired, McGregor is still reaping the benefits of the social media presence he created when he was at the pinnacle of his career. With 46 million followers on Instagram, he touts a highly valuable account, garnering the attention of major brands to this day, despite his retired athlete status. McGregor has been able to use that following to his own personal advantage, developing and promoting his own whiskey brand, Proper Whiskey, to his millions of followers on social.
Talent on the Rise
With the power that social media holds, athletes are finding new ways to grow their platforms now more than ever. “Sugar” Sean O’Malley has gained a lot of popularity recently through his activity on social media. By design, O’Malley is doing a lot outside of fighting for the UFC and it's why he's already one of the top stars in the league, despite the fact that he has yet to even crack the top 10 of his division. Just recently before his fight in October against Petr Yan, O’Malley took to Twitter both as a form of instigation for his opponent, but more importantly, a conversation starter for fans of the sport and general audiences alike: "I'll be surprised if I get hit once." Almost immediately hundreds of responses flooded in. In a world where, increasingly, engagement is king, O'Malley is thriving. He has 2.4 million followers on Instagram which is more than all but two of the UFC's current champions. As he continues to rise in the sport, his athletic prowess coupled with his high engagement on social will propel him to convert this social success to profit.
By utilizing social media to their advantage, fighters are not only able to create diversified income sources outside of the UFC, but also help continue to grow the sport beyond its current following. These platforms allow them to connect with fans and new audiences in a way they haven’t previously been able to, allowing rising stars the ability to surpass their better-known predecessors when it comes to engagement and notoriety, even at the brink of their careers.