UFC Returns to New York With Marketing Blitz

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New York City's Madison Square Garden is the nerve center of a battle the city hasn't seen the likes of for more than 20 years.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is re-launching in New York this week with a headline match-up between Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez at MSG on Saturday, Nov. 12.

Mixed martial arts combat was banned by New York state legislators in 1997, when it was largely unregulated, but in April this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law legalizing the sport, bringing it in line with the other 49 states.

Techniques to interact with fans have changed radically since UFC was last in New York in 1995. "Our fans here have waited a long time for the event to take place and we want to expand our footprint outside of the octagon and create touch points for them to engage with our fighters and partners," said Kamini Sharma, VP-global marketing for UFC.

To build the UFC brand and connect with a local audience, the company is doing a range of interactive, social marketing and marketing promotions, or "activations," allowing the public to engage with the sport. "It's a way to bring the personalities of the fighters to life," said Ms. Sharma.

UFC's New York City ad blitz includes a takeover of the 33rd Street Plaza on Nov. 12 with a "fan experience" expo from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Fans will be able to test their abilities on punching machines, and fighters will be available for question-and-answer sessions that will be broadcast on Facebook Live.

Outside of the fan expo, UFC branding has been positioned throughout the city along with interactive billboards and fighting machines. "It's creating opportunities for fans to engage with our brands through physical activations, TV and social platforms," said Ms. Sharma.

Social media is a big part of UFC's strategy to connect with its fans, with Snapchat filters, event-specific Twitter emojis and Facebook Live streaming available on match day.

For brands such as MetroPCS, Harley Davidson and Fox, partnering with UFC represents an effective channel to reach customers.

MetroPCS will be hosting a "Purple Carpet" space within the fan experience plaza, to include interviews with fighters and other engagement activities that will be broadcast on Facebook Live. Through primary and secondary market research, MetroPCS found that its customers have a strong affinity for UFC. As part of the promotional efforts in the leadup to the headline event, fighters made surprise visits to MetroPCS stores across New York City.

"We have seen that our customers are fans of UFC. They said 'I want to be closer to the action' and that came directly from consumers," said Ximena Cuevas, senior director of brand and acquisition at MetroPCS and T-Mobile.

UFC has also partnered with Reebok to create a New York-inspired product line themed on the headline fight.

Lagardère Sports and its activation agency, Rooftop 2 Productions, are leading the Purple Carpet and Facebook Live, while Richards/Lerma is the brand/social agency for MetroPCS.