Programming

Clutching Onto Social Media

Boxing, wrestling, MMA event promoters reach out to fans online 8/08/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

The pay-per-view ring sports category
is getting a welcome marketing
punch from the Web and social media
sites like Facebook and Twitter, as event distributors
look to develop a more direct engagement
with both fans and casual viewers.

Companies like HBO and Showtime are supplementing
direct-mail pieces and newspaper
and magazine ads that typically tout upcoming
PPV ring events with Twitter chats with fighters,
video clips of workouts on Facebook and
interactive ads on Websites. Others, like Top
Rank and Ultimate Fighting Championship, are
engaging Web users by offering live streaming
video of fights via the Internet and Facebook.

The emerging social media space, which
helps event providers reach young, passionate
and tech-savvy fans, has quickly become as
important a PPV event marketing tool as the
cross-channel spot. “There’s clearly an engaged
audience out there that wants this information
and wants to be a part of the conversation in a
big way,” says Ken Hershman, Showtime Sports
executive VP/general manager. “We all benefi t
from it—the fans benefit and [event providers]
benefi t, and it makes things more exciting.”

Executives say the social media phenomenon
has opened up myriad opportunities to talk directly
to consumers about an upcoming fight
or ring entertainment event in virtual real time
that only a few years ago may have taken weeks
via the mainstream media, according to Todd
DuBoef, Top Rank president.

“Years ago, it was about getting on the
phone with the writers and getting them on
the line with [boxing promoters] Bob Arum
or Don King and letting them chirp about
what was going on,” DuBoef says. “Now,
through social media, we have an immediate,
results-driven platform for us to create publicity
and awareness….We can get out there
and get to the fans on an immediate basis and
give them information.”

It’s not uncommon to have fighters and
trainers—or company executives—take questions
from fans via Twitter.

UFC President Dana White oversees the
popular mixed martial arts outfi t’s Twitter
site, which has more than 300,000 followers.
The Twitter feed is updated daily—sometimes
even hourly—on changes to upcoming PPV
event cards and other information of interest
to MMA fans.

“The beauty of it is that Dana can choose to
give them an update on a fight-card change,”
says Bryan Johnston, UFC chief marketing officer. “The thing that works for us is that there
is no time lag in information, the fans are able
to get updated on the spot.”

A few weeks prior to HBO’s Sept. 17 Floyd
Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight, HBO will offer
fans access to both the Mayweather and Ortiz
camps through videos placed on the HBO.com
site and through Twitter, according to Tammy
Ross, VP of HBO Pay-Per-View & Sports.

Arguably, no ring sports entity has leveraged
the appeal of Facebook better than UFC. With
more than 6 million Facebook friends, UFC has
taken the social media service beyond just textbased
communications. Last January, the page
began offering streams of live fights on the undercards
of its monthly PPV events.

The UFC’s monthly live offerings on Facebook,
which feature three to four live fights,
have netted the company on average 150,000
new Facebook friends for each event and are a
PPV promotional window of sorts.

“The beauty of working with Facebook is
that they are just as fluid as the UFC,” says Johnston.
“They had never viewed themselves as a
portal for live sports, but it’s an agnostic platform --
if you have a computer,
or the right mobile phone, you
can be anywhere and watch the
fights for free.”

The company has also been
on the cutting edge of offering
live PPV events on the Web,
providing users of UFC.TV
the ability to watch PPV events
from different camera angles,
Johnston says.

Showtime has offered an
enhanced version of its Strike-Force MMA telecasts online
for $24.95. The net has distributed
about a dozen such online
PPV offerings via SHO.com, which offers
various camera angles and appeals mostly to
non-Showtime subs.

In May, Showtime teamed up with Top Rank
to offer the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley PPV
event live over the Web—the first time a major
PPV boxing match has been available on the
Internet. Top Rank’s DuBoef would not reveal
specific buy numbers from the online PPV offering,
but says it “lived up to our modest expectations,”
adding that he was encouraged by operator
response to the online offering. DuBoef says
that both the upcoming Pacquiao and Miguel
Cotto fights will be offered on PPV via the Web.

HBO is looking to fuse both social media and
traditional marketing together for its Sept. 17
Mayweather-Ortiz fight, according to Ross. The
network has restructured its traditional direct
mail piece to offer consumers a 24-day calendar
leading up to the Sept. 17 fight that features daily
opportunities to watch online video or to create
a “social media engagement” through HBO,
HBO.com and the network’s social media sites.

“Social media has become one of the spokes
in the wheel of marketing [PPV events],” Ross
says.“All we can do is be where potential consumers
digest their news and information and
entertainment, so what we’re successfully trying
to do is marry a lot of those spokes together.”

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