Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Key to the Success of the UFC: Dana White

OK obviously the UFC is successful for a number of reasons: the decline of boxing leaving a void for combat sports in North America, their ability to put out a great product both in the Octagon but also on their television shows and online content, a serious lack of legitimate competition and of course their constant policy of always putting the fans first.  All of these reasons made the UFC the success that it is today but without Dana White being the face of the organization I truly believe the company would not be doing nearly as well as it currently is.

There are lots of people that make the UFC what it is and get very little credit for their work because they are not in the spotlight like Dana White.  There is the Chairman/CEO Lorenzo Feritta who does most of the behind the scenes business deals for the UFC and of course the man that makes all of the fight related decisions the VP of Talent and official Matchmaker Joe Silva.

Both of these men play key roles in the company and one could argue that they in fact are the key reason for the success of the UFC as without Joe Silva making great fights and singing amazing fighters the UFC would be putting out a shabby product and would have no fans.  Its a valid argument and if Joe Silva wasn't such media hermit there may be more evidence to show that he is more than just 'the man pulling the switches behind the curtain.' But its because Dana White is so front and center that makes him so important and integral to the success of the UFC.

As President of the UFC Dana White is involved in every single aspect of the company.  He works closely with both Lorenzo Ferittia and Joe Silva but also has to constantly be in the public eye making statements on behalf of the company and dealing with fights, fans and the media every single day.  When the UFC bought Strikeforce last week it was Dana White who was doing countless interviews discussing the deal even though it was Lorenzo Ferittia who made it all happen.  Dana is out there in front of the world as the face of the biggest company in Mixed Martial Arts and in my opinion he does a phenomenal job.

I think the biggest reason Dana is so successful is because he comes across as just a regular guy who is extremely passionate about what he does.  75% of the time he is in a t-shirt and jeans and just hanging out when he does interviews and he rarely, if ever, wears a tie (actually now that I think of it I don't think I've ever seen Dana White in a tie).  This may seem unprofessional to some but to most fans it means they can identify with him because of that and it makes him seem more approachable and human.

Now compare that description to some of the other public figures in professional sports (and yes the UFC is comparable to MLB, NFL, NBA and the NHL in terms of its popularity as a professional sport).

The NFL has Commissioner Roger Goodell as the face of the organization.  Goodell is referred to as Roger "Goody Goody" Dell by a number of members of the media and seems like the personification of a suit who never says anything that wasn't prepared for him by a team of public relations representatives. Does the NFL succeed as a league because of Roger Goodell? No, it succeeds because its the NFL.  I could be named Commissioner of the NFL and it would continue to make billions of dollars so giving Goodell credit for making the league successful is unwarranted.

Then you have David Stern who is the Commissioner and face of the NBA and Bud Selig  who is the Commissioner of MLB.  Both of these guys are old and by my view appear very out of touch with their fans. I would say both do a good job with their respective sports considering the colossal problems they are forced to deal with everyday (Selig has the steroid issue and Stern has referees as well as attendance issues).  Do they pass the "yeah I'd have a beer with that guy' test? Of course not. Are they the reason their leagues are successful? No, LeBron James and the fact its "America's Pastime" are the reason the NBA and MLB are successful leagues.

Lastly there is the Commissioner of the NHL Gary Bettman who in my opinion is the worst Commissioner by far in professional sports.  The majority of fans of the NHL despise Bettman and look for every opportunity they can to rip him apart and make fun of him.  Is the NHL succeeding because of him?  If anything the league is popular despite the efforts of Bettman. 

Dana White breaks the mold created by men like Goodell, Bettman, Stern and Selig.  White isn't always politically correct and he doesn't always say the right thing but he will never hold back on his opinion and he is always frank and honest with fans and the media.  White has no problem speaking his mind on any issue and isn't afraid to pepper his answers with a few F bombs here and there.  Fans respect/identify that sort of behavior and it endears White to them and in any business its always about making the customer happy.

But its more than just being honest that makes White so successful.  He seems like a genuinely good guy that loves MMA and is incredibly generous with both his time and his money.  Before every UFC event White always goes on his Twitter account and tweets his location saying that the first few fans to find him will get free tickets to the event.  White will also give away a few free tickets to every event at the press conferences before the fights simply because fans ask and he understands tickets can be expensive and hard to come by.  He will even hang around and talk/take pictures with fans long after the events/press conferences are over and he ends almost every interaction with a fan by saying, "thanks for coming."  These actions may cost the company a little bit of money but they help create a positive image of White and the UFC as a whole.

White also provides fans amazing levels of access to both himself and the UFC as an organization.  Not only does Dana White actually use his Twitter account to interact with fans but he also puts out a video blog before each event that provides fans insight into what its like to be Dana White.  These video blogs show behind the scenes footage of White going about his day as the President of the UFC and show him interacting with fighters, fans, celebrities and the media.  In no other organization are fans treated to this kind of access by the face of that organization and its probably because no other organization has a personality like Dana White that can pull it off.

Uploading a video blog and answering fans questions on Twitter may seem like trivial or cheap ways to get positive publicity from fans but they are incredibly effective.  Dana has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter as compared to Stern, Goodell and Selig who have 0 and Bettman who has just over 10,000 (although he has only 3 tweets since April 09).  That kind of exposure and direct marketing is invaluable and helps create both brand recognition and loyalty among the fans.

What also needs to be considered is the way Dana's employs view him.  In the video blogs Dana uploads fighters are constantly coming up to him and thanking him for the opportunity to fight in the UFC and after big wins or when demanding title shots fighters will always say something along the lines of 'I told Dana I would put on an amazing performance and I did" or "Dana wants guys that can finish and that's what I am."  The fighters in the UFC seem to genuinely like Dana and want to work hard and put on good performances for the UFC to keep Dana happy.

If the fighters are always trying to do their best then the fights will be better and the fans will be happier.  Its common sense and its a way of doing business that Dana White has cultivated in the UFC.  Its one of the main reasons the UFC is so successful and its why the UFC will continue to be successful.

One of the other roles Dana played (and continues to play), and maybe his most crucial, is getting Mixed Martial Arts legalized all over North America and around the world.  Without Dana White MMA would probably still be illegal in Ontario and in 90% of the United States.  He has made such great progress in helping spread awareness for the sport and for the brand of the UFC.  His role cannot be stated enough as he has made countless television appearances spreading awareness as well as being involved in legal proceedings on multiple levels of government trying to push through legislation legalizing MMA.  Its almost like Gary Bettman expanding the NHL into the southern United States except successful.

Without White working hard for legalization of MMA the UFC would not be as successful as it is today because they would be limited to doing shows in Las Vegas and a few other locations rather than hosting events all over the world.  Over the past year alone the UFC has put on shows in Vancouver, Montreal, Australia, England, and Germany.  If Dana White isn't the President of the UFC that probably doesn't happen.

As I said before there are lots of reasons to explain the rocket like rise in popularity the UFC has gone through over the past few years but in my opinion its the presence of Dana White that has helped the most. People associate him with the UFC as he is the face of the organization and he does an amazing job promoting MMA and cultivating relationships with the fans.

Dana White knows that the fans are the most important part of his company and so he does everything he can to keep them happy and as an MMA fan myself who will be going to UFC 129 April 30th at the Skydome (I refuse to call it by its actual name) there isn't really much else to say except, thank you Dana White.

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