Star power from ring to red carpet

By Alexander Speirs

Star turn Ronda Rousey (left) and Holly Holm duke it out in Melbourne. Photo / Getty Images
Star turn Ronda Rousey (left) and Holly Holm duke it out in Melbourne. Photo / Getty Images

Professional sports are largely star-driven enterprises. Single athletes, whether in team or individual sports, can make millions of dollars difference to the resulting bottom line.

"We've always known as you try to grow any business, any sport, that having strong, recognisable and exciting athletes is a fundamental," explains Tom Wright, UFC director of operations for Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The UFC's record 2015 year was spearheaded by a pair of those stars " Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. Rousey headlined the UFC's largest live show, drawing more than 50,000 fans to her fight in Melbourne, last November. McGregor, on the other hand, was the primary attraction on two of the UFC's most successful pay-per-view outings, generating more than a million pay-per-view sales each time he fought in the United States alone, at a cost of US$60.

"Twenty-one years the company has been around and 2015 was its biggest year. Who was 2015? That was everything to do with me," a boisterous McGregor told the Weekend Herald.

The brash Irishman has cemented himself as the promotion's most popular male star and top drawing athlete, barely two years into his UFC career. Blessed with a silver tongue and precision punching, McGregor ran roughshod through the promotion's featherweight division and captured his first world title to close out 2015 - ending the decade long undefeated streak of former champion Jose Aldo in just 13 seconds.

While McGregor's performances inside the ring are undoubtedly impressive, it's his work outside which sets him apart. McGregor's infectious personality has seen him emerge as a mainstream star, frequently making the rounds on television talk shows, strutting the red carpet and soon to make his silver screen debut opposite Vin Diesel in the latest instalment of the xXx film franchise.

The result of his surging popularity has been record numbers for the UFC, eye-watering pay cheques for McGregor and highly lucrative outings for those who draw him as an opponent - a factor he's not shy about reminding them either.

But fans are fickle and fame is fleeting. In professional sports, you are only as good as your last performance.

An over-reliance on star power is an inherent vulnerability for any business " particularly one where a single punch can destroy a reputation many years in the making.

Private equity interests and institutional investors have long been murmured to be sniffing around the UFC as a potential acquisition target " but the volatility of athlete value and subsequent revenue generating potential requires a substantial appetite for risk.

- NZ Herald

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