Social Media

Clutching Onto Social Media

8/08/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

The pay-per-view ring-sports category
is getting a welcomed 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
the direct-mail pieces and newspaper and magazine
ads that typically promote 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 even further 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,
have 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,” Showtime Sports executive vice
president and general manager Ken Hershman said. “We
all benefit from it — the fans benefit and [event providers]
benefit, and it makes things more exciting.”

SPEAKING DIRECTLY TO FANS

Executives say the social-media phenomenon has opened
up a myriad of 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 Top Rank
president Todd DuBoef.

“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 said. “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 mix
martial arts outfit’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 mixedmartial-
arts fans.

“The beauty of it is that Dana can choose to give them
an update on a fight-card change,” UFC chief marketing
officer Bryan Johnston said. “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 the 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, vice president of HBO Pay-Per-View & Sports.

UFC STREAMS ON FACEBOOK

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 text-based communications. This January, the
page began offering streams of live fights on the undercards
of its monthly PPV events.

UFC’s monthly live offerings on Facebook — which feature
approximately three to four live undercard 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,” said 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 with the ability
to watch PPV events from different
camera angles, Johnston said,
although he would not reveal how
many buys the site generates on average
from the web PPV offerings.

Showtime has offered an enhanced
version of its StrikeForce
MMA telecasts online for a $24.95
fee, according to Hershman. The
network has distributed around a
dozen such online PPV offerings
via SHO.com, which off ers various
camera angles and appeals mostly
to non-Showtime subscribers.

This past 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 said it
“lived up to our modest expectations,”
adding that he was encouraged
by operator response to the
online offering.

He also said that the upcoming
Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto
fights will be offered on PPV via
the Web.

While social media has become
a major component of a PPV event
distributor’s marketing strategy, traditional
marketing tactics still play a major role in reaching
viewers. HBO is looking to fuse social media and
traditional marketing to promote 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.

“I think that social media has become one of the spokes
in the wheel of marketing [PPV events],” Ross said. “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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