Ads for Tough Guys

If there is one sport that has taken the most criticism since it started it has been UFC. Ultimate Fighting Championship has been the talk of many people for its violent nature and bloody scenes at times. It is no surprise why Sen. John McCain once called it “human cockfighting.” But despite of all of the criticisms, according to USA Today ,” The league is now a multimillion dollar enterprise that broadcasts arena-filled events on pay-per-view and has deals with cable networks like Spike TV.” This sport has grown so much in fact that it is now a great investment for many companies to promote their products. Advertising has not always been well received in UFC though. A prime example of this occurred in 2006 when ESPN sent out the following memo:

“Effective immediately, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ads are no longer accepted on the Disney & ESPN family of networks.  UFC ads are a direct violation of our Affiliate agreements “Affiliate shall not insert into the ESPN network advertisements or promotions of any sports program.”  Please contact your programming colleagues for complete advertising restrictions.  ESPN is not accepting these ads on a national level, and the same restrictions apply for our local Affiliates.  Thank you for your cooperation and immediate attention to this matter.”

Many didn’t understand why ESPN and Disney were taking such dramatic measures to separate themselves from MMA ( mixed martial arts). The biggest reason which was stated to be that the ads were a direct violation of the affiliate agreements seemed to me to be very vague and not do justice or respect the sport. While some people might view the sport as too violent, bloody, or gory for their liking, other might think the complete opposite and value MMA for what it is, a sport.

Although things did start rocky with UFC and advertising, now we see a lot more effort from companies to try and get a spot on the ring or even represent a fighter. Recently UFC has signed a deal with Anheuser-Busch which symbolized the coming of age to a sport that many didn’t give a chance to last more than five years. Dana White , UFC President, said in an interview for USA Today that the deal was “huge for the sport” and would be a”key step in the sport’s migration into mainstream entertainment because of the brewer’s reputation as a flagship sponsor for sports like boxing and NASCAR.” This deal was seen as a win-win for both sides because while stated earlier UFC gets one step close to reaching bigger brands to advertise, Anheuser-Busch gets a great way to reach their choice beer-consuming group of males between the ages of 21-34. Tony Ponturo, Vice-President of Global Media and Sports Marketing for Budweiser, said that they were “following the consumer and what they are interested in.”

The thing that interested me the most about the UFC was the type of brands that were advertised. Logically and strategically most of the brands that are seen in the ring are targetted towards men who are in between the ages of 21 and 35. We can find many brands that reinforce what it is to be a man such as Harkey Davidson and Budlight along with other newer brands that are common for a younger audience such as AMP and Monster energy drinks. You will not find an ad for Dove or Loreal make up in UFC because they will not apply to the audience that watches the sport. While researching this topic I was reminded of how it is important to know which people are going to be exposed to your product and knowing how to place what ads where. Although we do see the sport taking strides in the right direction, according to UFC Dump, “in recent months critics have cited the UFCs failure to attract mainstream advertisers as a sign that the sport is not yet being fully accepted despite its stellar growth in advertiser-coveted demographics.” By this we can conclude that we can’t tell what the future hold for the sport of MMA, all we can do is sit back and let time tell it all.

Below is a video of Tony Ponturo speaking of how the Bud Light and UFC deal came to be.


Leonard, Christopher. (2008, February 28). Anheuser-Busch launches advertising alliance with UFC. USA Today. Retrieved from:

Singer, David. (2006, October 16). ESPN: No More UFC Ads. MMA On Tap. Retrieved from:

UFC and Budweiser- Advertising?. (2008, November 1). UFC Dump. Retrieved from:—Advertising?.html

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