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Exclusive: How The UFC Built Its Digital Dynasty

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n an interview with Ministry of Sport, UFC vice president for Australia and New Zealand, Peter Kloczko, discussed the emphasis the UFC places on digital and how that focus influences the UFC’s success in other areas.

After a year filled with social media success for the UFC, in which the Australia and New Zealand accounts along recorded over one billion video views on Facebook alone and generated the highest growth of followers of any other national sporting code in Australia from August 1, 2019, to August 1, 2020, Kloczko said the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t change too much in the UFC’s digital strategy.

“We were already there, digital was already a really key priority and focus for the UFC and it’s been a bit of a secret sauce in terms of our development over the last 25 odd years,” Kloczko told Ministry of Sport.

“When it comes to last year (2020), we really just lent into our established base, it’s always been a key priority for us to produce high quality content for a variety of digital media platforms.

“It’s really a primary way in which we connect with our global fanbase and with our fanbase locally.

“Last year provided a unique platform where there was a lot of appetite for fans and everybody who was stuck at home or in some kind of lockdown were looking for things to do.

“That provided a really key opportunity for us to grow, and that’s what we did, we experienced a tremendous amount of growth particularly in the digital arena and finding new fans.

“Locally, this is just Australia and New Zealand, we had over one billion video views on Facebook alone, which is incredible.

“That particular platform, our follower base grew to over two million across Australia and New Zealand alone, and that’s grown over 100% in that year.

“It was a unique environment and a unique year, and while we’ve seen dramatic growth year on year when it comes to our fanbase, last year was quite exceptional in that regard,” he said.

Talking about the effect the UFC’s digital presence and assets has on commercial success, Kloczko said: “Digital has always played a key pillar in terms of our commercial success, we have some products available only online and you think about UFC Fight Pass as being a digital product.”

“UFC Fight Pass effectively pioneered the way in which sports gravitated to an online subscription service.

“We’re really building out that offering and there’s a lot of great live content there.

“From the pay-per-view perspective through UFC Fight Pass, fans have the ability to buy the pay-per-view which often occur once a month, so in our digital environment we have a great ability to commercialise.

“We’ve certainly seen that trend as our fanbase and digital footprint grows, so to does that revenue and commercial success.

“Last year brands really found it difficult to engage with their existing or potentially new audience and customers and they would activate at ours or other sporting events to engage with audiences and fans.

“What we’ve been able to grow over the last 15 odd years in the digital space with a focused direction is a highly concentrated, engaged base of fans.

“UFC is a highly sought-after demographic when you think about it.

“The old adage says that digital and social media is the least visible but most highly targeted, but we have a passionate fan base that is constantly engaged with a sport that has no off-season, it continues to roll on.

“We have been able to work with brand partners to construct certain campaigns that target those fans and is a cost-effective solution compared to traditional media,” Kloczko said.

Speaking about the UFC’s main goals in the digital space going forward, Kloczko said it is important to try new tactics and try new innovations in the digital world.

“To fuel that growth of the business, to best engage with our fans, we can do things that are quite unique in that environment that we perhaps can’t do in the media or through our brand partners or our broadcast partners,” Kloczko said.

“They each serve as important pillars in how we engage new or existing fans.

“In the digital world, there’s less of a barrier in terms of how we connect or engage with our fans.

“I would say, broadly speaking, our goals are around fostering that fan engagement.

“The challenge last year was how do we stay connected and engaged with our fans without welcoming them to our live events, which is obviously one of the key moments of the fan journey.

“We create content to promote our content, and each bit of that content is tailored to a specific purpose and platform.

“In the development of those digital assets, we create them in a specific way, but have a very prescriptive purpose,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to other sporting organisations trying to achieve the level of success in digital the UFC has achieved, Kloczko said a fan-first approach is a must in the digital world.

“Don’t be afraid to back yourself, proper resourcing is definitely required,” Kloczko told Ministry of Sport.

“This didn’t happen overnight, it’s been a consistent commitment that we’ve had to fund, fuel and develop a strong platform of engaged fans.

“One of our eight brand maxims that we think about when we look at digital media, is ‘be first’.

“When we approach a paid digital media spend, we always reserve a certain percentage of trying something new, normally 10 or 20%.

“Sometimes, there’s great value in trying something innovative and to be bold.

“We have a brand which lends itself to being bold and brash and trying new things, that might not work for every sporting organisation out there, but it is something that’s worked very well for us.

“Putting the fan first and listening to them is extremely important; not only do we market and connect and engage with our fans, but we listen to their feedback through those platforms and we have a healthy environment which fosters that information,” he said.