The IFL takes its fight to all audiences

Extensive media strategy built on accessibility and education helps to drive exposure for new league

Extensive media strategy built on accessibility and education helps to drive exposure for new league

At a weigh-in for an International Fight League (IFL) exhibition match earlier this fall in Portland, OR, someone in the audience jokingly asked one of the ring girls to drop the towel she was using to shield one of the buck-naked fighters from 200 spectators. Not looking to disappoint, but apparently missing the joke, she dropped the towel leaving the fighter fully exposed.

That's not exactly what the people behind the IFL have in mind when they are talking about getting full exposure for this nascent league.

Joe Favorito, IFL VP of communications, says he and his colleagues are implementing an outreach plan that is hoping to do more than just promote the league's debut in late January. They also want to highlight the difference between the IFL and its predecessor, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), as well as its fighters and coaches and the business opportunity it represents to potential partners and investors. But Favorito says whether he's talking to the media, business people, or TV execs, the conversation focuses heavily on education.

"The main thing we've had to do is educate [people]," he explains. "The perception of what the sport was when it started and what it actually is now are two totally different things. The education process is a lengthy one and probably unlike anything else on the sports side because you're taking a negative image and spending countless hours to turn it into a positive story."

The New York-based IFL is a team-oriented mixed martial arts league, as opposed to the single-fighter setup of the UFC. The IFL will launch with 12 eight-man teams: 10 in the US, one in Canada, and one in Tokyo. There will be 11 regular-season events held in 7,000- to 12,000-seat arenas, followed by semifinal matches and then a championship match in late summer. The fighters, who have day jobs, are paid an annual salary.

The first thing the communications team did was reach out to the mixed martial arts media, providing access to the fighters, coaches, and company principals Gareb Shamus and Kurt Otto. "We hold weekly conference calls and make sure they have ample amounts of background, photo, and video material - anything they would need to help us tell our story," Favorito says.

However, it's not only the martial arts or business media the IFL is targeting. It's been able to target a number of niche titles because of the fighters' diverse backgrounds. One combatant, Aaron Stark, is a member of Mensa and runs a vineyard in Portland.

"It's all types of media because these guys have great human-interest stories," Favorito says. "The business community has also been very accepting."

Among the national and international publications and programs to have covered the IFL are Inc., Sports Business Journal, FHM, The Oregonian, Times of London, Forbes.com, and 60 Minutes.

"We want to make everyone as accessible as possible," explains Favorito, "similar to the way every sport was 20 years ago before they became large conglomerates."

Dave Doyle, an editor at FoxSports.com who covers the mixed martial arts beat, says in terms of launching a business or brand, the IFL is a good model of what to do.

"The IFL is doing everything right as far as introducing a new league and a new concept into a marketplace that's getting very crowded, very quickly," Doyle says.

He adds that there's a constant flow of investors who appear to be working without any type of business plan, "trying to enter this market to just end up throwing good money after bad." What separates the IFL, Doyle says, was its signing of recognizable veteran athletes and, most important, the media savviness of its employees.

"From a media relations perspective, it's top-notch," says Doyle, who has written a handful of feature stories on IFL fighters and coaches. "If you ask them to speak to someone, they'll get them to you right away. I've seen a bunch of stories on them in big publications that other wannabe promoters haven't been able to get."

IFL is working with Dan Klores Communications to target traditional media outlets, as well as college newspapers and radio stations. The league has also launched pages on MySpace and Facebook.

Another key component of outreach involves looking for potential investors and business partners. Microsoft and Coca-Cola have already signed on, and others will be announced in the coming months. And Fox Sports Net has been airing the IFL's exhibitions.

"We're a single entity, so we have the ability to do in-arena sponsorships and meet-and-greets," Favorito says. "We control the signage, TV, and the rights and marks to the teams, so we're able to do things most conventional leagues can't do anymore, which is bring a one-stop-shop option to any kind of company interested in an experiential marketplace in sports."

AT A GLANCE

Company:
International Fight League

Chairman and CEO:
Gareb Shamus

Headquarters:
New York

Revenue and Latest Earnings:
Private company, but it will be going public on December 1

Competitors:
UFC, Pride, boxing, and World Wrestling Entertainment

Key Trade Titles:
AdAge, Sports Business Journal, Forbes, ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Full Contact Fighter, Grappling, Black Belt, Sherdog.com, and MMAweekly.com

Marcomms Team:
Joe Favorito, VP of communications
Jerry Milani, PR manager
Mark Selva, VP of marketing

Marketing Services Agencies:
Dan Klores Communications, Leverage Sports, and William Morris
Private company, but it will be going public on December 1

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