Kawa, who works mostly with clothing and fight equipment sponsors, had never signed a logistics partner. "I thought, Considering this isn't a sport where FedEx wants to be, why not take a chance on BlueGrace?" he says. In April 2011, he set up BlueGrace's first sponsorship deal, with Ben ("Smooth") Henderson. Since then, BlueGrace has sponsored all of Henderson's fights and signed annual contracts with two of Kawa's other UFC clients, Carlos ("Natural Born Killer") Condit and Thiago ("Pitbull") Alves.
Those deals guarantee BlueGrace logo placement during a certain number of fights, but they actually deliver much more than that. BlueGrace's fighters, for example, have appeared on Fox and in the pages of Maxim magazine, all while sporting the company's logo. "That secondary marketing was completely unexpected," Harris says.
The newness of the sport also enables sponsors to have more personal relationships with their fighters. Each of BlueGrace's fighters promotes the company and interacts with its customers on Twitter and Facebook . Athletes with an annual contract do even more. Last year, Alves not only wore a Santa hat for the photo on BlueGrace's Christmas card but also held a meet and greet at a BlueGrace career fair and hosted Harris and 75 BlueGrace clients in his hotel suite the night before a fight. "He was so gracious," Harris says. "He created great memories for a lot of our customers."
The sponsorship is fun for employees, too. For some, it's even been a deciding factor in choosing to work for BlueGrace. KJ McMasters, an avid UFC fan, was choosing between a position at BlueGrace and a rival when he learned of the sponsorship. Not only did McMasters feel it was a smart marketing strategy, but, he says, "culturally, I knew I'd fit in." He's now VP of corporate development and marketing.
The attention the company gets from the sponsorships surprises even Harris. "We do so many things to provide value, but you want to do business with us because we're sponsoring fighters?" he says. "Whatever works."
Wide World of Sports Marketing
Costs vary depending on the athlete, venue, and amount of media coverage, but even niche-sports sponsorships can top the million-dollar mark. Below, Larry Rothstein of sports marketing firm Source Communications offers some advice on four hot but affordable niches and the demographics they can help you reach.
Bowling: "It's an excellent fit for blue-collar men, 50 and over. It's on ESPN , but it's a much lower cost of entry than other televised sports." (Cost: $20,000 and up for local events)
Equestrian: "This demographic would be 35 to 54, skewing female, with a household income well over $150,000. It's very suburban." (Cost: $15,000 and up per event)
Women's Golf: "It's enormous in Europe and Asia, so it's great for companies that are thinking globally." (Cost: $50,000 and up for local events)
Surfing: "It's very niche, very young, and it doesn't get much TV exposure, so it's better for guerrilla marketing, where you're promoting on-site." (Cost: $25,000 and up per event)