Planning for Success: The UFC in China
The UFC is making big strides in tapping into the Asian market with its upcoming show in Macau, China. Traversing a foreign market can be extremely tricky for any company, but with its experience in Brazil and Japan the UFC should be able to make a great first impression with the Chinese. Here’s how:
1. Learn from The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil
The biggest lesson from The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil that UFC President Dana White should take with him in setting up the UFC franchise is that local fighters fill the seats for local shows. Although it may be too late to film a season of TUF: China, the idea shouldn’t be ruled out for future shows at the Venetian Macau Resort Hotel’s Cotai Arena. If White brings the UFC’s reality show into China, it would help develop local talent and help build up the anticipation to the climax, a live event held in the new market.
2. Develop the sport itself
Many of the prospects for the UFC in China still need time to develop and grow. The sport has evolved exponentially since the pioneers learned to blend striking, grappling, and the ground game; however, not all countries have grown equally. Some nations still lag behind others in certain areas, like Britain with wrestling or China with the ground game. If the UFC helps foster the growth and development of true MMA in these areas, better local fighters will emerge and the talent pool for stars will grow immensely. This can be accomplished in a variety of way; seminars to demonstrate the effectiveness of BJJ; a cultural exchange program in which Chinese instructors agree to exchange training methods or ideas with other instructors; or just open demonstrations/exhibitions of MMA that emphasize the ground aspect of the sport.
Chinese Featherweight Tiequan “The Mongolian Wolf” Zhang is a prime example. Prior to entering the WEC Zhang boasted a professional MMA record of 13-0 with ten wins coming by submission. Since signing with the WEC and then being picked up by the UFC Zhang has gone 2-3. Arguably the biggest potential star to market the UFC in China has become somewhat tarnished for lack of development. If the UFC wants to appeal to the Chinese, it needs to make sure some of its roster reflects its audience. Currently the lack of enduring talent is making that difficult.
3. Recognize the cultural differences of the market
This may seem the most obvious, but it is still the trickiest area. You wouldn’t expect a transplanted cactus to thrive in a rainforest, so you shouldn’t expect the same UFC in America to thrive in China either. Just as some Americans still view MMA as barbaric or too violent, we must assume that numerous unexposed Chinese will feel the same way. Jackie Chan was quoted saying that he isn’t a fan of the UFC because of how violent it is.
“I don’t like to see Ultimate Fighting. As a martial artist, I find it too violent putting them in a cage. At the end, it’s not fighting anymore. That’s not the martial arts. Martial arts is about respect. When somebody is knocked down, stop. … Come on, when a guy is down, stop. Don’t fight. That’s not the spirit. When you’re down, I’ll grab you up. Are you okay? Should we continue? That’s the martial arts spirit. That’s what I want.”
The best way to go about avoiding this common misconception would be to change the public’s opinion about the sport by showing them the sportsmanship, honor, and determination that the sport actually entails. This can be very time-consuming, however, and so the UFC can go about accomplishing this another way: celebrity endorsement. We have already seen this done countless times in the Pay-Per-Views; the camera pans the audience then focuses on Michael Clark Duncan, Kevin James, or whichever celebrity happens to be in the crowd. The same effect could be achieved by utilizing the existing media in China. Winning over the local celebrities will bring in their followers as well.
Another issue would be presentation. When the UFC went back to Japan they made a wise decision in changing the local posters advertising the event. The UFC posters in America may be fine in the US, but in foreign markets with different preferences different aesthetics are eye-catching. Using local marketing firms that better understand the area would help to navigate the foreign waters.
The final point in marketing to the Chinese would be to understand, at least the basics of who the audience will rally behind. Having Asian or Asian American fighters is not enough to appease nationalistic Chinese. There must be a China-born fighter that reflects the traits that the Chinese hold dear. For anyone that knows even the least bit about Asian history, Korean and Japanese fighters will not do, and if the UFC card being held this fall in Macau is stacked with fighters like Yoshihiro Akiyama, Dong-Hyun Kim, or Chan-Sung Jung then it is safe to say that the UFC did not heed this lesson at all.
As a Chinese MMA fan I hope to see the UFC do well in China. The country is still one of the largest untapped markets for the sport despite the emergence of Asian organizations like One FC and Legend FC. What those promotions lack (an all-star roster, the ability to groom stars, the ability to put together numerous shows that people actually want to see) the UFC has the capabilities for. But will they be able to pull it off? We’ll see in November!