The legacy TapouT co-founder Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr. left behind after his tragic death in a car crash in March 2009 is witnessed in the growing acceptance of MMA among mainstream sponsors.
In November, sports apparel company Under Armour announced a deal making UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St.- Pierre its underwear model and spokesman, joining NFL stars Ray Lewis and Brandon Jacobs on the list of high-profile athletes who endorse the company.
“Charles would be smiling at the new Under Armour deal with GSP,” says Marc Kreinert, TapouT president and chairman. “He would say something like ‘The fact that companies such as Under Armour have taken notice of our sport is exciting.’ TapouT is still the market leader in MMA, but we are honored to have companies such as Under Armour enter our arena. It means we have done a few things right!”
“You’re going to see Under Armour a lot more now,” says UFC president Dana White, adding he and UFC co-owner and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta have been meeting with Under Armour brass for about a year. The deal marks the second coup for GSP. In March 2009, he shot a commercial for Gatorade’s G campaign, the first foray into MMA for the popular sports drink.
“This is a long-term partnership,” says Shari Spencer, president of GSP Enterprises and St.-Pierre’s manager.
Spencer, who also reps UFC lightweight Frankie Edgar, believes Madison Ave. continues to be gun-shy about MMA because of the negative perceptions from the pre- Zuffa UFC years.
“As the education process (about MMA) continues to occur, and one by one the mainstream brands enter the sport, I think they’ll be looking more at the MMA athletes’ image as much, if not more, than their record,” she says. “I think the impact of UA sponsoring GSP will indeed open the door for other mainstream sponsors that want to target the male 18–34 demographic.”
Bud Light, Burger King, Harley Davidson, TapouT, and Rockstar are among the most visible of the well known sponsors in MMA, however, advertising is not the only entry into the mainstream, and we’re seeing more and more as the sport continues its explosive growth even in a sagging economy.
Video gamers THQ will release UFC Undisputed 2010 over the next few months, and EA Sports is set to offer its own MMA game, which would only increase awareness and help educate fans and newbies about the intricacies of mixed martial arts, like the ground game and submissions.
UFC legend Chuck Liddell was seen by millions dancing, not fighting, on the hit ABC show Dancing With The Stars. Quinton Rampage Jackson will make his major motion picture debut beside no less than Jessica Biel (whose audience is also MMA’s) as B.A. Barackus in the big screen version of The A-Team.
Jackson joins other MMA fighters turned actors, including Randy Couture and Cung Le.
And let’s not forget the world’s greatest heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko, made his Strikeforce debut on CBS television, with an audience of nearly five and half million. Finally, there’s the issue of legalizing MMA in the media capital of the world, New York, which is likely in 2010. Once that happens, Madison Ave. will be forced to take notice, and from there the sky’s the limit. As Mask used to say: “Believe!”