What Athletic Departments can learn from the McGregor vs Mayweather Fight

August 29th, 2017 | by Dan Gale
What Athletic Departments can learn from the McGregor vs Mayweather Fight


On Saturday night, my wife and I were heading back from a wedding in the western part of Ohio. We had spoken before we left and agreed we would find a sports bar to watch the McGregor vs. Mayweather fight and call it a night there. We did some searching, and through the beauty of the internet found a small central Ohio town on our route that had a Marriott with a Buffalo Wild Wings across the street. We ended up paying $10 each to go stand in the bar area of the Buffalo Wild Wings amongst a variety of individuals.

What we walked in to blew my mind.

It was truly a standing room only crowd and had people from all walks of life. But there was one common thread… everyone, even us, had the desire to be a part of the phenomena that was going to ensue.

The place was electric…

Every time McGregor was pictured on television… the place would erupt… 50% cheers and 50% boos.

Then Mayweather would be pictured… the place erupted… 50% cheers and 50% boos.

This continued throughout the night leading up to the fight and during. I was scanning the crowd and noticed the diverse mix of fans and took to speaking to a few who were standing close as to why they were there and who they were rooting for to win. One individual was a boxing fanatic who swore Mayweather would win by knockout in the middle rounds. Another Individual was a UFC fanatic who swore McGregor would be too tough for the elder Mayweather.

Lastly, I spoke with a couple who were not a fanatic of either, but would not miss this for the world. They did not have any idea what to expect but wanted to see it unfold first hand. It was truly a spectacle that everyone felt they were a part of, even though we were in rural community thousands of miles from the lights of Las Vegas!

I will admit I have been fascinated by the business aspects of this fight and have written a few comment pieces on the financial windfall it produced for both McGregor and Mayweather. Here is a great article on the business side.

However, what I observed more Saturday evening and plan to touch on today was the marketing genius I witnessed firsthand that could be applied directly to athletic departments.

The way this fight took on a persona of itself and lived up to the hype is going to lead to many case studies and roadmaps for future success, but the following are three takeaways any athletic department could learn from this epic battle.

– Know and Market to Your Core Audience First

– Create a Sellable Story

– Engage with Your Audience to Make Them Work for You

These may seem like common sense objectives, but the way this fight was promoted led to an organic growth of marketing that not even the Super Bowl could touch this year. It attracted everyone regardless of gender, race, financial status to feel they needed to be a part of the spectacle.

Know and Market to Your Core Audience First

When the fight was announced many people, including myself, thought it was a cheap trick for a pay day on both sides. I was not part of the original audience that the fight would target. They began by targeting the passionate UFC fan base to ignite their passion against a more traditional more conservative boxing fan base.

It worked to perfection. What the marketing folks within both McGregor and Mayweather’s camp did so well was target their core fans first. It created a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) category that I, as well as many other individuals, now fell within.

The two fan bases are quite different in demographic and understanding of each other’s sport, but the cross over idea ignited their passion and they were engaged from the start. They helped grow the marketing organically unlike anything previously seen in this space.

What athletic departments need to do is first engage their core fans and never forget about them! Creating a culture for these fans will help lead to a FOMO environment that can lead to increase sales. These are your lifeline. Find a way to keep them involved and they will become an extension of your staff.

Create a Sellable Story

In 1976 the world was treated to one of the great films of this century… Rocky. Yes, I will admit being raised in South Jersey I am biased to the Philadelphia underdog story, but the real treat for me in this film is the marketing genius of Apollo Creed.

Floyd Mayweather is the real-life Apollo Creed, but even bigger and better.

Mayweather and McGregor’s concept is not far from the script of Rocky. In the same fashion as Apollo Creed creating a lot of buzz around a sellable story of fighting in Philadelphia on July 4, 1976, McGregor vs. Mayweather created a unique and compelling storyline that was easily swallowed up by the masses.

Everyone knows an underdog or Cinderella story sells, but the way in which McGregor changed his underdog status to a position of power from another form of fighting was pure gold.

The story line was there and it attracted millions of people to want to be a part of it and why the revenue poured in for both sides.

What athletic departments can learn from this is to create a sellable storyline to market to your fans. Work together with opponents to help create a story that sells, it will help both teams. Great examples of this have been done by Arizona State when they “Blacked Out the Duck” in 2012. Both Oregon and Arizona State marketers worked together on a great concept that organically took off. Here is a video from the campaign:

Engage with Your Audience to Make Them Work for You

One of the things the McGregor vs. Mayweather showed us was that the tremendous amount of engagement with fans led to unprecedented organic growth for the event.  The promoters spent millions on touring the fighters throughout the world and numerous interviews, but the grass roots engagement with passionate fans was key in growing the excitement.

The amount of engagement led to fans feeling like they were truly associated with either fighter.

They created FANATICS who led the push that helped lure in the casual fan like myself. They were passionate as they truly felt engaged with either brand. They loved their fighter to an almost crazy level.

This was no more evident that the bar we were standing in… none of these people had any formal association with either fighter, but felt they were connected and it showed!

Athletic departments and teams already have a leg up in the college marketplace, you have alumni who have a tie to your school. Being able to successfully engage and increase a person’s association will not only lead to increased support but also to increased revenue. The more engaged your fans are will only make them greater stewards of your brand.

These steps can be acted upon even if you don’t have a major budget to promote. The fans built this fight and helped lead to record pay days for both McGregor and Mayweather… why not use the same principles to help build your revenues!

Dan Gale About Dan Gale
Dan Gale has been working in and around college athletics for the past 15 years. He has worked in fundraising and operations at the University of North Carolina, Temple University and East Stroudsburg University. He spent the bulk of his career at CBS Collegiate Sports Properties in leadership roles at the United States Air Force Academy, Old Dominion University, Towson University and University of Maryland. Upon leaving college athletics, he spent four years in the private sector building companies focusing with college athletics in the areas of technology and secondary ticket sales. He is currently the President of Leona Marketing Group, helping athletic departments formulate their revenue generation strategies and negotiating their multimedia rights.

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