While sponsors are a very important part of a fighter's income, you can't beat publicity.
Whether it's a key feature in a newspaper, a magazine or a blog, perhaps even a cameo on a TV series, keeping a fighter visible when they aren't fighting is incredibly important.
After all, these men only step into the Octagon at most four times per year. If you want to keep fans invested in yourself as a commodity, you've got to stay active everywhere from interviews to social media.
There's where Elie Deshe, the marketing managing director of VFD Sports come in. He's in charge of sponsors, marketing and social media for all sorts of athletes ranging from Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Travis Browne, Clay Guida, Erik Perez and even coach Mike Winkeljohn.
Deshe discussed MMA sponsors in part one of our interview posted yesterday. Today he talks with MMAmania.com about the importance of making a fighter visible in pop culture, the social media aspect of MMA and working with Nick Diaz in part two of this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How much work does it take and how much time does it take to invest in your fighters in terms of marketing to give these guys the exposure they need. Fighting by itself can only get them so far.
Elie Deshe: You said it best. That right there is the crux of what we do. The fighting part is almost irrelevant as their manager. They're gonna fight whether they've got one sponsor or no sponsors or 10 sponsors but it's the work that you do in between fights that dictates a guy's career, not just wins and losses.
An example of that is Cowboy Cerrone. He's a talented fighter in his own right, but this is a guy that needs to have his story told. He's fun to be around. He can do so many things well at an elite level whether it's snowboarding, wakeboarding, rock climbing, bullriding, you name it. The guy can be a pro at anything. We worked and got him a cameo appearance on the FX show Justified and he literally played a cowboy who does backyard MMA fights. It wasn't much of a stretch of a role to play but it was a start of getting these guys from being inside the Octagon to getting out and being a part of pop culture.
What people understand is that these guys are educated, moreso than most sports out there. They can give talks to kids, do tons of work with charities and they're easily the most approachable athletes on the planets especially considering these guys beat people up for a living. That's really our job right there. How do we get Clay Guida and Travis Browne more exposure? We linked them up with the people from Famous, Travis Barker's company and I think that's what a guy's agent and marketing manager should be doing. It's not just getting these guys from point A to point B.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of my favorite things about being an MMA reporter is just how approachable these fighters are. Why is that? Why are MMA fighters the most down to Earth people that you can just walk up to? Is it just because the sport is newer and they have more to prove?
Elie Deshe: I think that's part of it. You don't have all these guys who are multi-millionaires walking around. Lots of these guys are struggling so if you're offering to give them exposure and give them more publicity, they don't look at it as a burden, they look at it as an opportunity. If anything, these guys were fans of the sport before anyone. If the UFC never existed and it wasn't as possible as it was today, these guys were all about it and if they meet other enthusiastic fans of the sport or knowledgeable reporters, they can relate to them in a way that you don't see in other sports.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Another big thing you do with fighters is the social media aspect, building up a fanbase, followers on twitter, personal websites. Can you talk a bit about the importance of that for fighters on the way up?
Elie Deshe: Obviously, the UFC does a great job of promoting social media. Just the fact that guys are walking to the Octagon with their twitter handles on the screen, just now other sports are picking up on that. They're not fighting every week. They don't have an 82 game schedule. If you want to keep in contact with everybody and let everybody know what's going on, that's probably the best way to do it. At best you're fighting 3-4 times per year and if an injury happens or you have a cancellation or whatever, you might only fight once or twice. That right there is the importance of social media, keeping your name out there.
Twitter makes it as easy as sending a text message. You really don't have an excuse if you aren't on it or doing it right, reaching out and keeping your fans happy. It's simply enough to do. It doesn't even have to affect fans, it can be important for friends and family too. Posting an update about your training or whatever's going on in your life on twitter is a lot easier than sending 200 individual messages to people who are wondering how you're doing. Social media is natural, it's not forced. Even though the UFC is compensating you for doing a good job, it's one of the things where they were ahead of the curve to begin with.