Fighting for Position – How Bellator MMA Rose Through Social Media
When you think of mixed martial arts (MMA), you usually think of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, popularly known as UFC. Many people use UFC and MMA interchangeably. However, MMA is a sport created by two or more organizations that promote and fund the fights. The UFC is the largest MMA organization because it’s competitors have historically struggled to find a niche or failed for various reasons: corruption, lack of funding, and poorly-run operations. Many of the UFC’s competitors developed its biggest stars before they sunk into obscurity. However, one UFC competitor has evolved and rose to prominence: Bellator MMA.
Bellator began as a small organization with one big gimmick: tournaments. The tournament format was the original format of the UFC, but it moved away from the one-night tournament format to a boxing-style fight promotion in the late 1990s. Bellator adapted the tournament format and created a long-form tournament process as a means to build stars.
In the Bellator tournaments, each weight class had a seasonal tournament to crown a champion. The fights would take place over the course of months rather than a single night. This format built a cult following with lesser known, but still popular, international stars winning the early Bellator tournaments. The major challenge of a smaller organization living under the shadow of a titan like the UFC is finding exposure. Exposure tactics is where social media worked wonders for Bellator. While the UFC shielded their brand and their fights in the mid-2000s by insisting fans buy a product to see fights, Bellator embraced the evolving platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
During the Bellator “season,” weekly fight cards produced weekly highlights. The organization not only created daily content promoting fights and highlighting last week’s events but encouraged fan interaction. Fan-made highlight videos became huge pieces of the Bellator promotion, which saved them production cost and earned exposure. Great fights and fight finishes became viral sensations that earned regular play on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Week and built brand recognition.
While videos were being passed along on social media, Bellator’s brand was building and becoming more recognizable. A company with a niche gimmick, active social media presence, and legitimate fighting talent was destined for success. Jumping from HDNet to MTV2 and finally finding its home on the former UFC channel, SpikeTV, Bellator was able to survive network switches by continuing to evolve.
Now, Bellator has mostly ditched its tournament format except for its yearly “Grand Prix,” the surviving pillar of its late-2000s rise. However, it continues to push fighters on social media, build stars rather than tearing them down, and encourages fan interaction in a way its competition does not. In Bellator, fights mean something; they have high stakes. Elsewhere, fights feel like just that – fights.
The lesson to take from Bellator MMA is social media is a positive tool. If used in a positive way, consumers will associate your brand with great things, like excitement and quality.
It’s your job to create a quality product. It’s our job to give your product meaning. Let us take your social media to the next level today.