Saturday 1 October 2016

UFC unveil new chief and he has big plans for Ireland

Published 30/09/2015 | 14:24

Conor McGregor salutes the fans before his featherweight bout against Diego Brandao in Dublin
Conor McGregor salutes the fans before his featherweight bout against Diego Brandao in Dublin

UFC today announced the appointment of James Elliott as Vice President and General Manager of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

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Elliott will lead the expansion of the UFC this side of the Atlantic, which will mainly focus on increasing the number of live events and securing key broadcast partnerships.

Elliott has been promoted from within the UFC’s EMEA office. He joined in 2013 as Senior Director of Content and was instrumental in the massive growth of the company’s broadcast and television deals throughout Europe.

By leveraging key partnerships with premium channel provider BT Sport and free-to-air digital channels like 3e in Ireland and PICK in the United Kingdom, Elliott has increased the availability of viewing to fight fans throughout EMEA.

Elliot has been active in the sports industry for a good number of years particularly working in football including nearly four years with the English Football Association. While many fans express their passion through unbridled support, Elliot was so impressed by MMA and the UFC, he wanted to go and work for them.

“The really exciting thing about this sport and why the world is catching on is that once you’re exposed to it, it is hard not to become a real, diehard fan.

“The growth we’ve seen is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a huge amount of head room and potential for this sport, which is the reason I joined. You can spend a lifetime in football and not ‘move the needle’ anywhere. What’s really exciting for all involved in the UFC is the potential growth and to the ability to ‘move the needle’ especially in this region” Elliot continued.

"The growth in Europe has been slow and steady. Two events in 2012 has grown by one-a-year to five in 2015. One of the biggest revenue streams for the UFC is the US pay-per-view market. PPV events tend to have the bigger and better fight cards to maximise the buy rate. However, there has been a focus over the last five years to diversify the revenue streams, with regions like Brazil, Canada and more recently Australia playing a big role. Europe and the rest of the EMEA region also fit squarely in the expansion plans.

“We want to feed the European market and the commitment from Las Vegas to the EMEA events is absolute. Dublin last year was, in my 15 years of the sports industry, the single greatest sports event I’ve ever been at but others have said similar things about Glasgow during the summer and Stockholm, where there was still people buying tickets at the door at 0330 in January. All those things haven’t gone unnoticed by the executives in Las Vegas.”

With UFC Dublin in July last year being such a resounding success, it was only natural they return in October. As long as the support is here, it appears the UFC will make a date in the calendar.

Though Elliot stopped short of guaranteeing the city would be an annual fixture, it is not outside the bounds of possibility.

“We’ve isolated key markets and we can’t ignore them because of what’s happening. The Irish scene at the moment is extraordinary and what the Irish fans are doing for MMA and UFC is resonating around the world. It’s a phenomenon that we’re very excited about and appreciative of. When we’re planning out our schedule we always try and break new ground but we like to revisit with old friends and make we provide fantastic live experiences where ever we go.”

10 July 2015; Chad Mendes and Conor McGregor are seperated by UFC President Dana White following weighs in ahead of their UFC 189 Interim Featherweight Title fight. MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, USA. Picture credit: Esther Lin / SPORTSFILE
10 July 2015; Chad Mendes and Conor McGregor are seperated by UFC President Dana White following weighs in ahead of their UFC 189 Interim Featherweight Title fight. MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, USA. Picture credit: Esther Lin / SPORTSFILE

UFC Dublin last July is a great case study of what the UFC is trying to achieve. Though the venue only held 9,500, the success of the event was felt beyond the 3Arena. The event was the most watched content on the UFC’s digital platform, Fight Pass. UFC President Dana White confirmed fighters were texting him during the even looking to get on the next UFC Dublin card and Elliot assured us the UFC plane leaving Las Vegas with company executives will be full for the October show.

Though he’s only in the job hours, Elliot is aware the outcome of UFC 194 in December could see him land him with the unenviable task of trying to bring Conor McGregor to Croke Park. With issues like time difference with the US, the local authorities, curfews and the weather it may be the toughest event to try and get over the line.

However, what’s really refreshing is the willingness to try, even if the UFC are out of pocket as a result.

On a Croke Park event Elliot gushed: “What an experience that would be. Having been in the 3Arena with almost 10,000 people I dread to think what it would be like with 80-90,000 fans. It would be an incredible moment for MMA, the UFC and for Irish sport.

"We’re always trying to deliver these iconic moments in sport and that’s definitely something we’d love to do and we’ve made no secret about it. There would be a financial impact but as a brand statement and where Irish support is for the UFC it would be extraordinary and no one would doubt that.”

Even if the UFC at Croke Park doesn’t happen, Elliot believes this doesn’t mean we won’t see McGregor this side of the Atlantic again.

“We’ve a huge roster of outstanding athletes and the match makers challenge is deploying them in the right region for the right reasons. Las Vegas are very aware of the knowledge and support of the fans in Europe and they are always looking for the best way to feed it. Ronda Rousey (UFC ladies bantamweight champion) is fighting in Australia in November so marquee fighters are definitely not tethered to Las Vegas.”

Elliott added: “UFC has a strong commitment to the European market and I am thrilled to help lead the organization’s thriving business in the region. By leveraging key broadcast partnerships and exciting live events that have sold out some of the biggest arenas in Europe, UFC is poised to expand its global reach for years to come.”

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