The UFC's Controversial President Dana White and His Relentless Authenticity
By: Matthew Gross
The story of the UFC’s climb to mainstream sports is quite remarkable considering that the sport did not exist a mere 25 years ago. When the company was purchased in 2001 for two million dollars, it was struggling to cement itself as a legitimate sport for mainstream fans. It was in dire need of damage control to mitigate what Senator John McCain dubbed “human cock fighting.”
Enter UFC President Dana White. A brash, unapologetic personality, with an aggressive approach to marketing, White was the perfect fit for a sport that could be so unforgiving. Fans loved his brand, but it was not without controversy. The polarizing figure has used homophobic slurs, proclaimed that women would “never” fight inside the UFC and even compared the UFC’s website being hacked to “worse than 9/11.” The President, who is also the very public face of the brand, is also its biggest public relations fiasco.
But the global powerhouse the UFC has become may never have been possible without White’s relationship with its fan base. Call it serendipitous, but the company simultaneously leveraged the rise of the sport with the global influx of social media. Everything this now billion-dollar company is, would not have been possible without a PR team that created a synchronized relationship with a public that supported its brand.
The UFC had a built-in advantage over other sports properties in that its core demographic is the exact population of the core demographic of social media. Millennials were the driving force behind social media and the UFC locked in on them, particularly men that range from ages 18-35. They found a buyer persona and went all in. The UFC did what no major organization in the history of sports ever did: Made the public a part of who they are.
White uses shared media to intimately engage with fans to create a trusted relationship. He creates weekly vlogs, engages fans about which fight they want to see next and where they want the next fight to happen. White even tweets out his location to fans offering free tickets to the fights and a chance to meet him.
In 2011, Sports Illustrated named White one of the top 100 most influential people in sports on Twitter. He now has 9 million followers across all platforms.
These PR tactics trickle down through the entire organization. The UFC has created fan expos, in which fans engage with fighters, they let fans into press conferences for free and are the only major sports organization that puts free content from their events on YouTube.
White also has recently attempted to blackball beloved reporters, publicly supported President Trump’s immigration policies and consistently gets in spats with naysayers over social media. But always sticking to his brand truth and transparency, while never wavering, has resulted in a bond in which fans are extremely forgiving for all his missteps.
The company was sold in 2016 for $4 billion, just five years after their social media blitz.
White recently signed a 7 year, $350 million extension to stay on as the company’s president. The man who continues to talk without regard, is responsible for taking a once failing brand, into sports galore.
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