Lorenzo: We run this business on gut feel a lot

by Sergio Non, Lorenzo Feritta, UFC, Bellator | source: usatoday.com
 

USA TODAY spoke to Zuffa CEO Lorenzo Fertitta recently in a broad and deep interview that covered the seven-year deal with FOX, Zuffa's long-term ambitions, and its view of new competitors. Excerpts from the conversation:

On FOX

They're .. the No. 1 leader in sports. They broadcast the Super Bowl, Major League Baseball, World Series, serious NCAA football.

They're a little bit edgier of a network, even going back to the days when The Simpsons came on; now it's Family Guy and that whole suite of products. They just seem to be a little bit more attuned to males and young males, which obviously is our demographic.

Is MMA mainstream?

You certainly can't say, at least here in America, that we're on the level of an NFL or anything of that nature.

I think there's still a large group of media and large group of just what I'd call sports fans, casual sports fans, that maybe kind of know what UFC is, but they're not saying, "Hey, right now I have to be home to watch this fight."

That's what we're hoping, is to bring millions more people in to see the UFC.

Why be on free TV?

It's a huge commercial. You have to let people sample the product.

Once again, there's a lot of people out there that really haven't been exposed to the UFC, don't know guys like Cain Velasquez, how special he is; a guy like Junior Dos Santos. Once you watch them, you create new fans.

There was really a very, very niche fan base before Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar fought, and once they did, the sport exploded. We're looking for that same type of effect.

Do the four FOX shows in 2012 cannibalise some PPV?

We're going to pull back a little bit on the schedule next year. We have 14 pay-per-views. Trying to find the right balance and mix between the free fights on Fox, the free fights on FX, ... I think four free fights on Fuel. Then we have to feed the pay-per-view. So we did throttle back a little bit ...

Buyrates are down, has interest in MMA Peaked?

There's still a lot of growth left for us here in the U.S. How do we know? A lot of times we run this business on gut feel. You can't really run numbers or statistics.

Injuries have absolutely hurt us in a big way. To really correctly promote a fight, you literally need four to six months of marketing and planning to get the story lines out there, to get the marketing out there.

Then all of a sudden, you're two or three weeks away from a fight happening, and you've got to flip everything over, change the artwork, change the commercial, story line goes away, you don't have time to build it back up. It has affected us big-time.

International expansion

In the next five years, we'll probably be in a position where North America will represent 50% of our business, and the rest of the world will probably represent 50% of our business.

Right now, we're probably 85-90% North America ... We've got so many markets that we're just starting to get to.

Brazil's a great example. That market right there can easily become our second-biggest market. U.S., Brazil probably, then Canada.

I think when you look at Europe ... now all of a sudden it feels like the UFC in 2005, where you're just starting to feel the groundswell ... it literally feels like it's going to explode there.

And if you talk about Asia -- Asia's going to be a long-term investment. I think we'll connect with those markets, because of the culture of martial arts in those markets. When they see the UFC, they like it; they get it. They have to learn a little bit more about the ground game, very similar to what the U.S. had to do ...

Where is the greatest talent pools?

I think you need to look at it the other way around. The area that you struggle are the big guys, the heavyweights. There doesn't seem to be as many heavyweights out there as say, 145 or 155. From what we've seen in Brazil, there's probably 1,000 Jose Aldos running around Brazil that want to fight for the UFC that are just as talented. So I think you'll see a lot of talent coming from Brazil in those lighter weight classes, '35, '45, '55.

On Bellator

When we started this thing, we were massive underdogs. Everybody from the boxing guys to the Hollywood guys, everybody laughed us. They said this is going to be another failure. We had to work hard. We had to use some good old American ingenuity and figure this thing out.

The way I look at the Viacom thing, it's massive competition for us. We're in a situation now where it's literally David vs. Goliath. We're David and Viacom is Goliath. They have $5 billion on their balance sheet. They own as many networks as any other media company, and they can use those networks to promote Bellator and plug them now that they own them.

We've just got to wake up every day and compete as hard as we can. They're going to be a significant competitor. That's fine. We kind of thrive on that.

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Recent Comments »

HeyMarkIt1886 site profile image  

11/4/11 2:53 PM by HeyMarkIt1886

 Interesting read but it's the sport and the fighters more than the UFC brand that interests me. He's mostly talking about how to grow the UFC brand. It's more of a biz interview than an mma one.

MMALOGIC site profile image  

11/4/11 2:06 PM by MMALOGIC

 the countdown did pretty well... around 2 million viewers and it aired after infomercials.  FIgh camp 360 for the pacman fight got around 1.3 million viewers on cbs. If the fight produces less than 6 million viewers it's very dissapointing.  If it produces over 6 million it's a strong indication that the correction will be over fairly soon.  For Fox if it does less than 4 million it's a dud.  Now they've only committed 4 slots a year and even with poor numbers having content that you can funnel viewers from Fox to FX and Fox to fuel makes it worthwhile... but the difference between poor ratings and very good ratings is 1 hour on fox vs 2 hours on fox for future shows. over 8 million is a homerun.  over 6 million is very good.  4 million or less = blue balls.

quality site profile image  

11/4/11 1:53 PM by quality

Story lines sell in other sports they might call them rivalries. It works for all sports. In baseball for example you have the Red Sox vs. the Yankees. This example is a rivalry from the last like 80 years. Every game that they play against each other have higher ratings than most regular season games and it's a guaranteed sell out audience.In boxing right now you have the Pacquiao vs Mayweather rivalry. This will be a humongous payday for both. But who's to say a guy like Sergio Martinez for example couldn't kick either one of their asses right now? It doesn't matter if he can or can't because he's not where the top pay day is and he's a legit fighter that could knock either one off of their pedestal.Then of course you have wrestling which is just a whole bunch of big story lines that has been successful for many years. A lot of MMA fans crossed over from being wrestling fans.There are countless other rivalries/storylines in sports and throughout sports history and that's what helps bring in the $$$$.

Card site profile image  

11/4/11 1:28 PM by Card

Interesting to hear him talk about the Bellator and Viacom competition... more fights = great.

Pernicious site profile image  

11/4/11 12:48 PM by Pernicious

Picking nits here, but that's the best pic they could get of him? A blurry photo where the somebody else's hands are the only things in focus? WTF?

JeffersonDArcyChoke site profile image  

11/4/11 12:36 PM by JeffersonDArcyChoke

I love how he said you need to "get the story lines out there". Really?Other sports don't have to feed a story line. The Super Bowl is enough of a story. I'm sick of the carny pro wrestling booking and storylines. Every fight has a "heel" who says crazy stuff and after the fight they say "it was just to sell the fight". Yuck. We bought into MMA villains because we assumed they were NOT WWE characters getting over a storyline. Now we know one guy is the face, one is the heel and we need 4 months to tell the story.

Trejo site profile image  

11/4/11 12:11 PM by Trejo

Later

NorthFromHere site profile image  

11/4/11 12:06 PM by NorthFromHere

Excellent interview. Even though Lorenzo says that they run the business on gut feel, the interview shows that there's very much long term strategic planning behind UFC's moves. Like this deal with Fox

TBidness site profile image  

11/4/11 11:45 AM by TBidness

Great read, spot on.