UFC 122: Will Germany Prove to Be a Viable Market for the UFC?
The Ultimate Fighting Championship will make its return to Germany on Nov. 13. The fight card will take place at the Konig Pilsener Arena in Oberhausen and will be headlined by a fight between Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami.
UFC 122 will mark the second time the UFC has brought an event to Germany and like the first event, UFC 99, it has proven to be controversial. UFC 99, held in Cologne in June 2009 was heavily criticized by the German press.
UFC 99, held at the Lanxess Arena, was attended by 12,854 people and brought in a live gate of $1,300,000. The pay-per-view for the event had a buy rate of $360,000.
Compared to the numbers of the most recent event held in the United States, UFC 121, the numbers seem fairly weak. UFC 121, held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, had an attendance of 14,856, which brought in a live gate of $2,237,000. The pay-per-view for the event had a buy rate of $1.05 million.
The UFC was beset with problems when it began promoting UFC 99. One of the largest newspapers in Germany, Bild, ran a story in May 2009 with the headline, “Calls to ban the ‘insanity’ of brutal cage fighting in Germany.”
The story showed a distinct lack of knowledge about mixed martial arts, proclaiming, “Anything goes in the UFC, which has similar rules to the brawling in hit film ‘Fight Club’ – stamping, punching, choking and throwing are allowed, only biting and eye-gouging is forbidden.”
Boxing announcer Werner Schneyder added to the hysteria by proclaiming, “People could die. Brutality is depicted as something impressive.”
Dana White, president of the UFC, has heard it all before, “It’s like the 1990s all over again. We’re fighting the same stereotypes and misconceptions we did here in the United States a decade ago.”
The negative press resulted in an adults-only promotion, as anyone under 18 was banned from attending the event.
The UFC faced another roadblock when the Bavarian state office of new media, BLM, stopped MMA from being broadcast on television due to the “extent of violence shown to be unacceptable.” The UFC recently overcame this obstacle and will present the show free via the Internet at Spox.com. In the United States, the show will be presented on a tape delay on Spike TV.
In August of this year, White was adamant that the UFC would pursue Germany as a market, telling MMAWeekly, “One thing we don’t do, we don’t back down, and we don’t curl up and climb into the closet when things don’t go. We’re going to come out, guns a-blazing, and we’re going to keep going. Our job is to build the sport. We’re not going to stop; we’re going to keep going.”
White’s stance is admirable, but in the long term, is it wise?
The answer to that question, shockingly, seems to be "yes," as MMA is making headway into Germany.
Willy Steinky of Germany’s Ground and Pound told Sherdog.com, “The UFC coming to Germany has kick-started a professionalization in our country. The UFC is the gold standard for professionalism and that is motivating domestic promoters to continually improve their product.”
That professionalism is one of the things that could truly break down the barriers that the UFC is facing in Germany. If they use established German fighters such as Dennis Siver and Peter Sobotta to educate the press and the decision makers in Germany, they could establish the UFC in the country.
The UFC also has a powerful resource in the Internet.
Steinky informed Sherdog that his websites, “...access figures are up by 35 percent from last year over the last six months. We have added a lot of things where it’s not possible to imagine German MMA without them like domestic rankings, video interviews before and after events. The improved coverage has added to the scene and driven a lot of people from other sports to MMA.”
As Dana White said, the UFC has faced these barriers before. When MMA was seen as “human cock fighting” in the U.S., the organization broke down the misconceptions piece by piece, educating its detractors about the sport.
A committed organization, with the help of the growing grassroots supporters in Germany, should, in time, be able to establish the UFC as a force to be reckoned with in Germany.