Social Media: Inside the UFC, Dana White
March, 1, 2013
By Maria Burns Ortiz | Special to ESPN.com
Gregg DeGuire/WireImagePlaybook was behind the scenes with UFC president Dana White at the Ronda Rousey fight.What is it like to engage with one of the most engaged sports personalities on social media?
To watch Ultimate Fighting Champion president Dana White in action behind the scenes on fight night is to feel like you’re physically witnessing the speed with which information travels across the Web.
White navigated effortlessly between watching event preliminaries on a large-screen TV in his dressing room (an area he refers to as “the lab”), noting what should be posted on Twitter, signing off on Vine video, deciding what celebrities the UFC should be engaging on social media and conducting an interview almost simultaneously on the UFC’s most recent fight night.
“A chef [Anthony Bourdain] tweeted about the fight tonight,” White said, discussing how the UFC looks to engage with both fans and high-profile personalities on social media. “Things like this pop up. He’s got 1.5 million followers.
“Holy [expletive], did that just happen?” White blurted out, the on-screen action suddenly capturing his attention.
“Bermudez was just killing him,” he said, more in disbelief than explanation. “It looked like the fight was over, and he just got dropped.”
Without missing a beat, he turned to social media consultant Kristin Adams, “Make sure that gets tweeted.”
Adams was already on top of it. And White seamlessly returned to the conversation.
“So if you look at all the different people we interact with ... and when you talk about the number of followers, we’re talking reaching millions and millions of people,” he said, picking up at the very spot mid-sentence where he had left off.
That reach is exactly why White saw an early value in social media. It gave a growing sport like mixed martial arts the opportunity to communicate and engage directly with its audience basically for free.
“There’s no greater marketing tool in the world than social media,” White said. “It doesn’t cost you anything. The only thing you’re limited by is your imagination and how fun you want to make it and what you want to do.”
“This is what we do,” White said, gesturing to Adams, who was on a laptop, and another member of the UFC’s digital team who was at a nearby setup looking over two monitors.
“All night long [up until the pay-per-view], we just sit here,” White explained. “She monitors everything and tells me what people are talking about. … We pay attention to everything.”
Almost on cue, Adams noted five of the event’s fighters were already trending.
Adams has played a key role in the UFC’s digital operations and was the company’s social media manager before launching Socialie, a company that works with sports and entertainment brands.
The UFC’s rise to sports social media power can be attributed to a number of factors and forward-thinking individuals.
White’s no-holds-barred persona is certainly a fit for a social space where being engaging and unfiltered are assets.
“I’m brutal on Twitter,” White said. “If you say stupid [expletive] to me, you’ll get stupid [expletive] coming right back at you. But I think that part of the appeal is that it’s not some corporate stiff Twitter account.”
But it’s more than White’s love-him-or-hate-him dynamic that has taken UFC and White to the top of the sports and social media pyramid.
Early on, the UFC recognized the value of social media and has dedicated efforts to maintain its status as a leader by providing engaging and comprehensive multiplatform content.
That dedication is fully on display for each of the organization’s broadcast events. Numerous UFC staffers -- in addition to White and Adams -- are making sure the company’s social media efforts run smoothly.
For the company’s most recent pay-per-view bout, one person was primarily shooting photos for posting on Facebook and Instagram. Another person served as the point person for monitoring social media comments relating to broadcast problems -- either helping fans with easy-to-solve issues or connecting them with cable providers. There was YouTube and Vine video to be shot. The UFC also live streams its early preliminary bouts on Facebook.
A staffer in Las Vegas took the lead in posting many of the social media updates. A UFC digital executive not only monitored social media analytic data in White’s “lab,” but also was working with others worldwide to shut down pirated Web pay-per-view feeds. And that’s not even getting into all of the UFC.com content production -- itself an ambitious effort, considering there are 16 versions of the site globally.
There’s no question that social media permeates almost every aspect of UFC.
And suddenly, there it is. The one question that gives White pause. Would the UFC be where it is today if not for social media?
“I don’t know,” White said, after a thoughtful beat and a half. “That’s a good question. That’s a really good question. It would be a lot harder. It would make our job a lot harder.”