When it comes to social media, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is several steps ahead of the other major sports organizations in the world.
There is something vastly different from the way the UFC runs its social media campaigns compared to that of the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB. You wouldn’t see Kobe Bryant, Sidney Crosby or Derek Jeter spend hours answering fan questions on Twitter the way you would see almost any UFC fighter do. The organization is run in a vastly different way, and UFC president Dana White wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A lot of these other sports, I don’t ever tell these other sports organizations what they should or shouldn’t be doing, I mean they’re doing just fine without my advice…but right now, this is where the kids live, kids live in the social media world.” White said on a recent Google+ chat. “Twitter, Facebook, the list goes on and on. That’s not going to change it’s only going to grow, we embrace it.”
There is little White instructs athletes under contract to his organization not to do when it comes to social media. The UFC boss feels social media is the wave of the future and there is nothing like a fan being able to communicate and take a deeper look inside the lives of their fighters they enjoy watching compete. The athlete-fan relationship UFC encourages is something White believes other major sports are lacking.
“A lot of these guys put restrictions on the guys, no tweeting before, no tweeting after, no this, no that.” White explained when asked how the UFC’s social media policy differs from other major sports organizations. “You know what our policy is? You can tweet in between rounds if you can pull that off. There’s no reason to not engage in social media, it’s where everything is going. Fans want more access, behind the scenes, they want to be able to talk to you.”
“I think these other leagues like the NBA, the NFL – I say this all the time, I was watching the playoff with the Lakers, the Lakers were in the playoffs, they actually won this game, they won the game. And they’re showing them as they’re walking out of the tunnel, and all these little kids are hanging their hands over the side, not one player high-fived one of those kids, not one player. And I think that’s how disconnected these other sports are from their fans.”
White pushes his athletes to interact with fans through social media. Be it answering questions to their Twitter followers, doing live chats on a variety or websites, filming video blogs to be posted on YouTube or providing constant updates through Facebook pages.
In most sporting organization, the use of social media goes as far as sending out a message on Twitter here and there, but the UFC essentially tells their fighters it’s a free-for-all when it comes to social media. While other major leagues have social media policies written out that, if broken, could result in a fine or suspension, the UFC has no such type of formal policy. When it comes to the guidelines of using social media, the UFC president has one simple request to his athletes: use your head.
“My policy is: use common sense.” White said. “Now here’s the thing, if you’re tweeting racist comments or anything that’s going to get you in really big trouble, you’re going to get in trouble one way or another, whether you’re tweeting or not, cause if that’s really who you are, and that’s really what you believe, it’s going to come out in Twitter or something else. It’s bound to happen. If that’s the way you feel, it’s going to come out eventually anyways.
“We have 475 guys under contract, they’re all on Twitter. Our guys have been tweeting for years now…We’ve had three incidents that were stupid, really stupid, but explainable. That’s the other thing too. What starts to happen on Twitter is guys try to be a comedian. You’re not funny. And what you think is funny other people don’t think is funny, keep your stuff to you and your little clique at home.”
Three instances is a bit of an understatement as there have been a number of instances where UFC fighters have produced unpalatable content over the years. In fact, the UFC president has even run into a few issues with the use of social media, most notably a video the UFC released on YouTube in 2009 where White verbally attacked a female reporter, calling her a number of derogatory terms.
On top of White’s verbal triad, fighters Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Michael Bisping and UFC color-commentator Joe Rogan have had their slip-ups in recent years. If you want to look into Twitter directly, two UFC fighters in Forrest Griffin and Miguel Torres received a lot of heat in 2011 for tweeting rape-related jokes on their personal Twitter accounts. No official fines were handed out to either man for their comments, however in the case of Torres he was released from the organization (only to be brought back a few months later after taking a number of rape sensitivity courses).
Regardless of the incidents that have happened in the past, White has chose not to introduce an official social media policy to UFC fighters. His “common sense” stance continues.
Over the last couple of years, the UFC has begun to run fighter summits in Las Vegas. The fighter summit is an event where every fighter currently under contract to the organization meets in Las Vegas for seminars on how to use social media, sensitivity training and a number of other topics. White feels the fighter summits have gone a long way in preventing his fighters saying the wrong things on social media, an aspect that is very significant as the UFC brand continues to grow on a worldwide platform.
“That’s the only real media training we have. When you really look at our business and our sport and our athletes, these are all really good guys.” White said. “We really don’t have that many problems.”
Unlike any other sports organization out there, the UFC actually gives incentives to their fighters for using social media. Twice a year they will announce winners for a number of categories for Twitter, paying the winners $5,000 each.
“The way that it works is, we give away bonuses for whoever has got the most followers over a certain period of time, the most creative tweet,” he said. “There’s a bunch of different categories that we pay for.”
Ultimately, White feels social media causes more positive than negatives for his company. The UFC’s use of social media goes beyond just fighters interacting with fans. The entire company embraces social media. For example, the UFC YouTube channel has more than 333 million channel views, and the average video views are more than the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA combined.
White uses social media as well, interacting with fans on Twitter and giving away free tickets to events. In fact, the UFC president has more Twitter followers than any other commissioner of a major organization and every fighter currently on his roster besides middleweight champion Anderson Silva at nearly 2.2 million followers.
“The night of the fight what happens is I get there about three-hours before the prelims even start, we do rehearsals inside the arena, we check the levels and make sure that everything is cool. Then me and the girl who heads up all of our social media go into my room in the back and we starting check all the – not just Twitter, but Facebook, chat sites and we start engaging and talking to people and putting out information and telling people.” White explained of his personal use of social media. “Some of these countries where we haven’t secured television deals yet, we tell them how they can watch it,
“One time, for the Anderson Silva fight (at UFC 148) we set up a war room, and for each country they would light up a screen and it would light up which countries were talking about the fight that night, then we had other people there that night and we can go through and answer questions that people have, fix problems that people have, and it’s not just about knowing that the fight’s on. People that are planning to come to the fight or watch the fight, there’s always problems in your business – cables out in (expletive) Indiana, we need to see what’s going on. This guy’s having trouble. It’s just so amazing, all the ways it can help your business. Things that I wouldn’t have known about until they happen on Monday…we can actually fix it right there that night as it happens because of social media.
The UFC president doesn’t force anyone to use social media, but to him, the fact essentially everyone under contract to his organization is on Twitter or Facebook interacting with fans is a huge statement about what kind of people he has under contract.
“I think (the amount of time fighters spend on social media) shows the quality of the human beings that it involved in this sport.”
White is in the belief that leagues such as the NBA, NFL, and NHL will soon follow the example the UFC has set, and soon more athletes will be available for their fans through social media. The UFC’s head honcho feels his stance on social media is the right one, it’s the future and it should be embraced. White’s philosophy has worked so far, and he believes it is simply a matter of time until the others do the same.
“I would be shocked if the other major sports organizations out there aren’t gearing up and ramping up to change their policies and become more active on social media,
“I would be surprised.”