I’m not an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fan, and, admittedly, I haven’t watched
much any mixed martial arts (MMA) action. That doesn’t mean UFC fighters aren’t incredible athletes with huge fan followings – or that the league is not relevant in today’s sports landscape.
In fact, UFC management made waves and headlines recently when it dangled a $5,000 carrot to boost the efforts of its athletes on Twitter. It was the first time any professional sport, team or league incentivized social media activity.
That’s impressive, but troubling at the same time.
The bonus structure breaks down like this: Beginning in June, UFC and Strikeforce fighters will be placed into four categories based on current Twitter follower counts. At the end of each quarter, three fighters from each category can earn a $5,000 bonus, based on:
- Who gained the most followers since the start of the quarter.
- Who gained the highest percentage of new followers, and
- Who wrote the most creative tweets.
UFC president Dana White, who boasts nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers himself, will judge that last, very subjective category. In a sport with high testosterone and high drama, it has the makings for some interesting results. When the dust settles and blood dries on the mat, the UFC will end up paying $240,000 a year to fighters for battling it out on Twitter.
I was intrigued, but not exactly excited for MMA and UFC fans. Here’s why:
Pay-To-Tweet is Not Authentic
While it’s a sign Twitter has arrived as a more mainstream marketing channel for professional sports, it strikes a blow at the authenticity of social media as a whole.
Nothing brings out the phoneys on Twitter more than money – or the promise of a payday based on what and how frequently you tweet. Just ask anyone who’s been spammed with @ mention offers of free stuff after in “iPad” in a tweet.
Twitter is Risky Business
As athletes in just about every sport have learned, you tweet at your own risk. Or as pro golfer Paul Azinger tweeted this week, “We are all only one tweet away from brilliant, clever, insightful or stupid!” (I think my previous blog post on the subject made an impact on Zinger.)
Simply put, reputations can be ruined or damaged quickly, even at 140 characters (or less). Athletes put hefty endorsements and fan love on the line by sharing their innermost thoughts in this public and very viral space. It’s the reason other, more mainstream leagues and teams are headed in the opposite direction of UFC, placing a heavier hand on social media usage.
Social Media is More Than a Numbers Game
Success on Twitter also shouldn’t be measured by sheer numbers. To his credit, UFC’s White will factor in “creativity” to the bonus decision. But placing so much on the final follower count makes the journey to that number questionable. Will fighters follow me back? Will some spend money to buy followers (you can do that)? I suppose all’s fair in love, war and Twitter.
Twitter is Not for Everyone
Being successful at anything takes time, practice and dedication. The same is true for Twitter. Anyone who’s tried to find their niche on Twitter knows how much work it takes to build a following, to find a voice, and to become comfortable talking in 140 characters or less. Learning social media will be harder than UFC fighters might think.
The UFC does get high marks in my book for offering social media training to its fighters, which will help get them started. They’ve also generated good PR related to this incentive program. For a niche sports, it’s a great way to get buzz – especially in the middle of an NFL work stoppage and languishing MLB season. It’s also a nice for athletes in this amazingly dangerous sport have additional earning potential (even if it might be more work than they think).
Will we see other leagues follow suit? I doubt it, especially with so many athletes making mistakes with their Twitter feeds, and teams and leagues getting more jittery about their athletes. What Twitter and Facebook can bring pro athletes are additional opportunities to market their personal brand and any products or services they might endorse.
That’s the less interesting, safer route for athletes wondering about the benefits of social media. But as Zinger said, you’re only one tweet away from trouble. And that will always be the case with Twitter.
Thanks for being a fan.