2013 was an interesting year with UFC. While the company became one of the pillars of Fox Sports 1, they lost two of their major draws (Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva) to temporary retirement and a horrific injury. Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will miss a good chunk of 2014 following shoulder surgery. Yet, the company is primed to have a tremendous start to the new year, due almost solely to the unique marketing strategies dropped into their lap.
Following a show that will be broadcast from Singapore on their Fight Pass service this weekend, the UFC will broadcast a Wednesday night card on Fox Sports 1 in two weeks that could perhaps best be described as "unappealing". But neither of those cards will be the focus of this marketing blitz – instead, expect to see promotion for the UFC on Fox event on January 25th, the UFC 169 pay-per-view on February 1st, and the UFC 170 PPV on February 22nd.
The card on Fox is just three weeks away, and the card has no title fights. However, the NFL Playoffs airing on Fox will allow for some tremendous promotion over the next two weeks – especially with Fox airing a game this weekend between two rabid markets in Green Bay and San Francisco. The following week, Fox gets a pair of NFC playoff games involving one of those two markets as well as one of the New Orleans or Philadelphia markets – either of which will likely drag eyeballs to their advertising. Finally, the NFC Championship game will close the marketing blitz for this show on Fox's broadcast network.
UFC 169 is the UFC's annual Super Bowl show, taking place the day before the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. Considering that Fox is airing the Super Bowl, and will more than likely be providing tons of coverage leading up to the event on Fox Sports 1, promos for the UFC show will probably be plentiful. And unlike the Fox show, there's a hook with this PPV – two title fights (Dominick Cruz vs Renan Barao and Jose Aldo vs Ricardo Lamas). Oh, and I forgot to mention – the UFC show takes place in Newark, just ten miles from where the Super Bowl will be taking place the next day. The marketing tie-ins with the UFC and Fox simply write themselves, especially considering that Cruz-Barao is a bantamweight unification fight – THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE CHAMPION IN NEW JERSEY, ONLY ON PAY-PER-VIEW! Or, you know, something along those lines.
Finally, that brings me to UFC 170. On the surface, there isn't much going on with this card that would jump off the paper at you, especially considering it's the UFC's second PPV in three weeks. Yeah, Ronda Rousey is fighting, but so what? Here's the hook – Ronda Rousey, Olympian, is defending her title against Sara McMann, Olympian, in the midst of the Winter Olympics. Sure, the UFC won't be able to use the Olympic rings and maybe even the word "Olympics" in their advertising, but they can get around that by simply saying "judo bronze medalist" and "wrestling silver medalist" for each, while pumping the ads through Fox Sports 1 during their on-site coverage in Sochi.
In the co-main event, Daniel Cormier, another former Olympian, takes on Rashad Evans. Both men make regular appearances on UFC Tonight, and what better way to promote your fight by getting your face on TV without the pretense that you're there to hype and do nothing else?
With three of their biggest stars out of action for the foreseeable future, the UFC needs to get off to a good start in 2014 heading into the Johny Hendricks-Robbie Lawler fight for the vacant welterweight title in March and Jon Jones' light heavyweight title defense against Glover Teixeira in April. After that, the UFC has a blank slate for the rest of the year, but they have a great opportunity over these next two months to make some stars. If all three shows flop, it could be a long year for the largest MMA promotion in America.