by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com The UFC’s global expansion has been a major goal of both UFC president Dana White and co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta over the last few years. The latest move the company made was hiring former NBA Asia executive Mark Fischer to run the UFC’s Asian offices, and begin the process of bringing MMA and the UFC to China and other locations around Asia.
Fischer, who spent 12 years working with the NBA, specifically expanding its Asian reach, was a major piece to add to the puzzle. With his limitless knowledge of the way businesses must work to succeed in places like China, the UFC has a specific game plan in mind.
After being introduced at UFC 118 in Boston, Fischer got to work immediately on the long-term goals of the promotion. He wants to make it clear right way that it won’t be a fast process, but over time the UFC can be successful in Asia.
“I think initially we’re focused on media exposure, forming up some of our television and Internet media coverage, getting the sport out to as many fans as possible, and then we’ll move on to the next steps which will be events down the road. It won’t be events right away,” Fischer said recently.
Admitting that China is definitely the largest market to strive for, Fischer also knows that it’s not a place where pay-per-view has been successful yet. Sports fans in China are not accustomed to paying for content. So the UFC will have to take different approaches to gain traction there.
As UFC president Dana White announced with Fischer’s arrival, the company is hopeful to be in over 500 million homes across Asia in time. The new head of the UFC’s Asian office says that those numbers are certainly attainable, but it won’t happen overnight.
“I think that’s a rough number of the initial potential that we could go after over the next two years. We could probably get that reached pretty quickly,” Fischer commented. “Asia is home to 3 billion people, and a billion plus are in China, and the fact there sort if already is a very high aptitude towards martial arts. Not necessarily MMA, but I think that’s an easy conversion, just given the roots of martial arts in Asia.”
After several years of research and development, the NBA finally launched the NBA China in 2008 after a $253 million investment. The payoff of course will be the estimated $2 billion the company will rake in following that investment. In 2008 alone, the NBA generated $50 million in profits from China, and that number is expected to continue to grow.
Time is the key, according to Fischer, who knows that other sports like soccer, while extremely popular in China, have not put down roots there because of the financial commitment they have to make to succeed there. He says that’s the difference with the UFC, they are willing to invest on what they hope will be a lucrative return.
“We need to be sort of humble and conservative in our projections initially. There certainly will be push back from different sources, whether it’s the government here or some private companies that see us as competition, maybe have vested interests there, and so we’re going to have our challenges. I think long term though, the potential is fantastic,” Fischer said.
One major piece to the NBA puzzle that helped push China to the next level was the introduction of Yao Ming to the sport in 2002. While his career flourished and then floundered in the NBA, Chinese fans rallied behind its native son when he played in the NBA.
Fischer believes there will be just such a star to be discovered for the UFC in China, but he also points to stars from the NBA like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, who are household names in China. He believes UFC fighters can achieve that same level of success.
“Yao Ming was a great catalyst. I think we’ll find our Yao Ming eventually in China, and there are some very good Japanese and Korean fighters already in the UFC, and we want to build on that. As we go across Asia, we’ll find others,” Fischer stated.
In the short term as far as bringing the live UFC product to Asia, the new head of the Asian office named locations like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore as possible homes to the UFC.