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Posted on July 5, 2012 by Jack Thurman
As the UFC’s popularity in the United States experiences a precipitous decline with TV ratings slumping and PPV buys dwindling the promotion has started looking abroad. A misguided strategy of market over-saturation has all but killed off their home town of Las Vegas as a live event hub which means that an increasing number of events will be held overseas where the novelty of mixed martial arts hasn’t worn off. There’s already plans for shows in Australia and Europe and a recent event in Brazil was a financial success despite a terrible card. Most recently the promotion announced plans to hold their first event in a market that is definitely untapped–China.
The current plan is to hold a UFC event on November 10 in the booming gambling destination of Macau. The host property for the event will be the Venetian Macao-Resort Hotel with it’s 15,000 capacity CoteiArena. This is a smart move by the UFC–regardless of the state of their popularity among the Chinese population they’ll have a sell out on the basis of ‘comps’ purchased by casinos for their players if nothing else. Macau is less than 50 miles from the financial hub of Hong Kong so there’s definitely a very ‘Westernized’ audience from which to draw.
Based on comments from UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta the plan is to hold a second tier ‘Fight Night’ card to test the waters in Macau. The heavily sponsored sport of MMA is a strange fit with China, but there’s much to suggest that it could catch on. China has it’s own martial arts tradition and the modern permutation of the sport–though not necessarily the UFC promotion–has been hugely popular in other Asian countries. The increasingly affluent Chinese private sector already has a love affair with other iconic Western brands so should the UFC catch on they’d made a mint in merchandise sales alone. A country with a population of over $1.3 billion can buy a lot of t-shirts.
If nothing else, it allows the UFC to continue their international growth. Their recent economic situation is very similar to what the WWE experienced when their promotion’s popularity started to wane in the US after the Hulk Hogan era. They spent more time overseas where their live events continue to draw huge crowds to this day. International crowds are less focused on the quality of fight cards–a huge problem for the UFC of late–and are generally happy to have the opportunity just to attend a live event. For the UFC, it won’t solve the problems facing the promotion–too many events and too few fighters with the requisite star power to sell them–but it’ll at least help keep their revenues up while they look for long term answers.