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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

The UFC’s Growth in China

Updated: May 27, 2019

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has seen massive growth in China over the past 3 years, as they aim, like many others, to gain a foothold in the Chinese market. Their online following has grown from 30,000 to 420,000 on Sina Weibo with their official account now the 3rd most followed sports account on WeChat. With this base of followers, the UFC is ready to take China head on and is set to host their first ever event in mainland China. Here are the driving factors behind their huge increase in popularity and why China is now ready to host its first UFC event.

Chinese Martial Arts Origins

China is no stranger to martial arts, laying claim to the foundation of numerous ancient disciplines. Many of which remain prevalent in daily life for many demographics, with various types of martial arts taught and contested across the country. There is no shortage of participants or knowledge about martial arts in China, meaning there is a large potential market for combat sports, like the UFC and MMA, to engage with and inspire. With this in mind, the UFC focussed on highlighting how the values of their organisation and the sport align themselves with many of those in Chinese culture, such as perseverance, bravery and respect, thus bringing in new fans as well as appealing to existing ones. Furthermore, by not exclusively pushing the UFC brand, they appealed to the already established combat sports fan groups, providing a base from which to grow.

Turning Chinese Fighters into Legends

The rise of Chinese fighters has also played a big role in growing the UFC in China. China is an incredibly passionate and patriotic nation, so to see local fighters competing at the highest level generates a much stronger, more engaged following. Li Jiangling is the face of Chinese MMA having fought in the UFC since 2014. There are now more coming through the ranks, 8 of whom are on the UFC Shanghai card. Chinese fighters in the UFC also encourage people to take up MMA as they are far more meaningful for Chinese fans. Having successful Chinese fighters also goes a long way to building the organisation a history in China to which new fans can easily relate to.

Video Content

Short-form video content is becoming increasingly important among Chinese fans. It creates easily consumable and shareable content that fans love. Knockouts and highlights from MMA events around the world are well suited to this form of consumption. The UFC have taken advantage of this format, combining it with their strategy to build the reputation of Chinese fighters. Video content including Chinese fighters not only attracts more views but creates awareness for the fighters. This has played a key part in reaching a wider audience and helping them amass 100 million total views over the past 3 years in China alone.

Backing from Influential Figures 

The UFC is not without its challenges. Changing public perception of the UFC as overly violent and dangerous to well regulated, athletic, controlled and a sporting spectacle being the best example. KOL’s and influencers are an effective way to not only to help sway public opinion but also at attracting new fans and growing brand awareness. The UFC has a long list of celebrity investors ranging from Tom Brady to Sylvester Stallone. Most notably in China is Li Na, who will be attending the UFC Shanghai fight night. The retired former world number 2 tennis player remains one of China’s most celebrated sporting heroes and, as such, her involvement and support for the UFC helps both to sway public opinion and develop the sport.

Mailman is a sports digital consultancy and marketing platform and a leader in the China Sports Marketing industry. We help global rights holders, athletes, and leagues to build a successful business in China.

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