Back in January of 2009, I told you about how Dana White and the UFC had announced the launch of the new UFC Gym chain of martial arts and fitness centers.

(You can read the original post here)

As faithful readers of this blog will recall, I told you way back then that this could spell trouble for some martial art school owners in those areas where the UFC Gym chain plans to locate a facility.

Well, I was wrong.

Now, I’m warning that all school owners in these locations need to be concerned about this 800 lb. gorilla moving into your backyards.

At the time UFC Gym announced their launch, details were sketchy at best. I was unaware at that time of the extent of martial arts programs that UFC Gyms would offer. It ain’t pretty.

For example, just check out the verbiage found on the “Kids Programming” page at the UFC Gym site:

http://ufcgym.com/#/kids

And sure, they’ve gotten off to a slow start. But I guarantee that once the economy gets back in full swing, they’ll start opening new facilities in major metropolitan areas across the country.

Not All Bad… But Not All Good, Either

Now, I’m not saying this means complete and utter gloom and doom for independent owner-operators in our industry. In the long run, I think it might actually help the industry, considering all the additional consumer awareness it could potentially bring to the martial arts.

But if you’re located near a proposed location, and you think this doesn’t spell trouble for your school in the short-term, think again.

I’d ask that you recall how Wal-Mart destroyed the mom-and-pop retail industry all over the United States. Then consider how The Home Depot has almost completely eliminated all the independent hardware stores across the country. And, examine how chains like Walgreen’s and CVS have slowly nudged independent pharmacies out of the market over the last 15 years.

Now, think about the martial arts industry as it exists today. Independent school owners who are going to be forced to go head-to-head with UFC Gym locations will be in for a fight.

Honestly, can you match their marketing budget or brand power?

Not likely. If they expand with anything near the market penetration that I believe they are going for (and remember, Dana White is a very ambitious businessman) then this has the potential to shake up our industry like nothing ever has.

If You Think You Might Be Competing With A UFC Gym…

If they move into your neighborhood you have one of two choices. You can gripe and complain about your sorry “luck”. Or, you can see it as an opportunity to improve your business.

My advice? Plan ahead to take advantage of the increased interest their massive marketing campaigns will create. Here’s how…

First, I suggest that you go back and read the recommendations I included at the end of my original post here. (Be sure to read the most recent comments to see what martial arts programs they are purportedly offering and what their rates are.)

Second, I suggest that you start rethinking the way you approach your business, and get smart about running a high-quality, high-touch, high-profit, “boutique” martial arts school. That means competing on the quality of your service and the unique experience you provide your clients… not on price.

Finally, I encourage you to avoid looking at the UFC, Dana White, or the UFC Gym chain as being “the bad guy” here. It’s not like they’re out to destroy the industry – on the contrary, I believe they’d like to see it expand.

Think about it – the more people who are interested in martial arts, the better off they’ll be. And as their market expands, so it will for the entire industry.

I know it’s not an ideal scenario, but for those school owners who are smart enough to take advantage of the situation, things could eventually turn out in their favor.

21 Comments

  1. Adam Sedlack on May 12, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Mike,
    Let me know if you would like to further discuss. We actually are performing incredibily well over our initial youth models. That being said, I believe you will see our brand appeal and market penetration do nothing but help the smaller kids studios. This industry is growing and we can all do very well!
    Adam Sedlack
    SVP UFC GYM



  2. Robert Gill on May 12, 2010 at 11:56 am

    I have personally been involved in teaching Taekwon-Do for over 25 years. i have seen the Kick Boxing and The Taebo times all helped introduce many to some kind of Martial experience. It is important to see these new concepts as exposure but look at your school and styles strengths and market these. Many mixed Martial arts clubs have already come and gone, in my area people are seeing an attitude and arrogance from many of the people training in these clubs. So when visiting my school we tend not to compare our school only show what and why we offer what we do.



  3. Sean Russell on May 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Hi Mr. Massie, yep it will be the McDonalds of MA. But isn’t Mile High also, the ATA, ITA, WKO, and many many more organizsations? People will eventually see through the watered down martial arts programs. Even though thereis a McD’s on every corner this doen’t mean that the local hamburger stand or italian restaraunt loses business. On the contrary, people appreciate the quality of the little bistro’s service and quality. These are the few willing to pay for it.

    The people who continue to train in martial arts will eventually want more depth to their training. In these sport gyms the street application is lacking. Their inability to understand it is okay to kick to the groin and stick your finger inside someone’s eye to survive or how about sinking your teeth into a nose or thigh feeling your teeth touch together. They will not teach real fighting in these places!

    Business as usual.

    Sean Russell
    Russell’s Kung fu San Soo



  4. Mike Massie on May 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Adam, I agree that it will help the industry over the long haul, if only by increasing public awareness of the martial arts as a viable and more mainstream option for recreation and fitness.

    Having said that (in the article as well) I’ll also say that a small independent school located near one of your locations could get steamrolled under if they aren’t prepared.

    My job is warn these guys to plan ahead, as the industry in a period of major upheaval right now. If by warning my readers of what’s to come I help some school owners transition, all the better.



  5. Mike Massie on May 12, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Sean, the difference between Mile High and the UFC is that Steven Oliver wishes he had the brand power and financial resources of the UFC. No doubt, Steven is a fantastic and successful businessman… but comparing Mile High to the UFC brand is like comparing an Olympic-size pool to Lake Michigan. Certainly, the former is impressive, but the latter is of a size that puts it in its own class.

    As for competing on quality, I agree. Read my response to Javier’s post here for further insight into why I feel it’s important to adopt an attitude of continual improvement and complete customer focus toward your business immediately.



  6. Adam Sedlack on May 12, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    The more conversation that brings the true benefit of MMA for kids the better! Kids MMA and Conditioning is and extreme passion point for UFC GYM. Beyond the fundamental benefits(discipline, character, respect, confidence, ect…)all of us have an opportunity to tie in fitness conditioning with a goal of offsetting childhood obesity through calorie expenditure. I would like your subscribers to know that our goal is drive market net promoters to the mma space. The fitness industry has about a 17% market penetration, and lets say MMA has about a 5% market reach……My goal is to increase the marketing capability for all studios(large and small). We are one industry that will have large growth over the next few years, and communities like this support that growth.



  7. Byron on May 12, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I like the UFC as a spectator sport and it does do a lot for Instructors and school owners but the Gyms are going to squeeze people threw sheer “EYE CANDY” But hey money talks, I’m not worried about them and actually want to personally use their machines and stuff…. David against Goliath lol



  8. Mike Massie on May 13, 2010 at 5:49 am

    Adam, I don’t think anyone would disagree that we have a real obesity problem in America. But, the problem isn’t necessarily the activity levels of children – it’s what they’re eating. Take any kid off of processed foods, fried foods, refined carbs, and sweets, and replace the junk with whole food, and I guarantee you’ll see decreased body fat and increased activity…

    No doubt though, getting kids to exercise is a good thing. I just don’t want MMA crammed down the throats of kids in America… or anywhere, for that matter.

    Sure, I watch the fights. Yes, I admire the fighters for their athletic talent and skill (and I agree with Dana when he says they are the best-conditioned athletes of any sport). But just because something is socially acceptable for consenting adults (sex, drinking, etc.) it doesn’t mean we need to aggrandize it to our children. We’ve exposed our kids to increasing levels of sex and violence in our popular media over the last 20 years, and all you have to do is to look at the results to see what a mistake it has been. I’ve worked with kids for over 20 years, and I can tell you with a certainty – they don’t need to be exposed to any more violence.

    I think the UFC Gym concept is a great idea. But, every kid who walks into a UFC Gym is going to see the fighters plastered all over the walls, 15 feet tall and larger than life. It won’t take long for that to have an impact on those kids. Sure, it’s great for the UFC – you’ll be bringing up the next generation of fans. But any parent who doesn’t have serious misgivings about exposing their kids to the most violent sport in history deserves to have their head examined.

    I know, I know – most of the fighters are great guys, family men, and darned good people. But the thing is, kids aren’t capable of making complex social determinations of a moral or ethical nature – in other words, for the most part they aren’t intellectually capable of rationally separating violence for sport from violence outside the ring. And that’s why in my personal opinion I believe it’s a bad idea to expose kids to the sport of MMA.

    Of course, when you speak of teaching discipline, character, respect, confidence, etc. (as you say) – you’re not talking about MMA, at least not in the UFC sense. You’re really talking about teaching traditional martial arts programs in the UFC Gyms. Totally different animal. If you want to teach these kids TMA, or even MMA skills with TMA values, that’s something else.

    But it still doesn’t solve the issue of exposing kids to a violent sport. Violence is what the UFC is about, period. It’s part and parcel of the sport and its image. You simply cannot separate the two, making it wholly inappropriate for kids to be exposed to, in my opinion.

    Now as for market penetration, the traditional consensus in the martial arts industry has been a 1.5 to 3% market penetration for martial arts in most areas. The numbers seem to play that out in real life as well. In my observation, MMA has a larger market reach due to the number of enthusiasts, not the number of actual practitioners (competitive and recreational). I’d have to say that, when you extrapolate for removing the bystanders (people who just watch events, buy Tapout t-shirts, and follow the fighters) from the actual participants, that MMA has less of a market reach than traditional martial arts.

    But if you have some real solid numbers on that, send them my way. I’d really be interested in seeing them.



  9. Adam sedlack on May 13, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Although I am not in agreement with your take on the UFC, as I believe there is a high representation of all the characteristics that make the fundamental arts so great for kids and adults! That is not the intention of this discussion. Helping and supporting the kids studios is where I am hoping focus can stay. If you would like we can talk offline about the UFC Youth program and market stats. You are correct on nutrition…..food is being abused and needs to be highlighted! Thanks Mike.



  10. Mike Massie on May 13, 2010 at 8:26 am

    I respect your right to your opinion on the UFC, as I have mine.

    Thanks for participating in the discussion, Adam.

    As you know, your thoughts are always welcome here.



  11. Larry Clements on May 13, 2010 at 11:25 am

    MMA for kids. Reminds me of running someone else’s self defense program for this organization that held it’s own internal competitions. I decided to remove myself from continuing when I was listening to soccer moms telling the 5 year olds to knock the other kids brains out. I have to agree with you Mike. The culture cultivated by UFC right now is a questionable beast. Look at the recent fight that broke out at strikeforce event, or watching the UFC fighters rip down doors with their bare hands when they are pissed off. These are what those kids are going fixate on even if you do run traditional training programs that incorporate the self discipline and ethics conditioning of a true warrior art. It saddens me. I would like to see UFC be a beacon of good PR for the rest of us. Instead we have been beset by the masses feeding on the frenzy of the publicity that are all over the Internet now insulting traditional artist and arts, making absurd claimS and reveling in the violence. That appears to be the culture that UFC is promoting, and will, in my opinion, damage the respect for the martial arts as a whole. I believe in mixing training I have trained in numerous systems and hold instructor rank or working on instructor rank in several more. If they want to make this work they need to fix the overall appearance of the sport. And the money makers will not let that happen as it will certainly lesson their numbers. It is a shame.



  12. Byron on May 15, 2010 at 1:17 am

    MMA is Not For Kids. I’m involved in MMA and I have my daughter in a TKD school. Come on now, if anybody has ever steped into a Real MMA school you know it’s about the fighting and a lil blood. All that character development is just something you say to write copy lol
    Try to enroll an MMA adult with the idea that he will become a nicer person and he’ll walk away from you lol



  13. Mike Massie on May 15, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Byron, you definitely cut right to the chase. :)

    And, you are absolutely correct.

    Anyone who says different either doesn’t know anything about the martial arts in general, or they’re just trying to sell it.



  14. Byron on May 16, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Haha I’m in tune with my market! Business may be business but there has to be a SOLID level of conscious ethics. I’m here to learn from you sir and I like what I see! I’m liking this whole Boutique thing,i might even start a light application process.
    Quality Over Quantity.. Might even make for higher rentention. But since I first saw some 11year olds fight an MMA match, I was like NO-WAY, worst then watching women or unprepared guys fight for a check. Not liking women fighting may be chauvinistic, Excuse ME!! lol



  15. Mike Massie on May 16, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Kids fighting MMA…

    Some parent somewhere has seriously lost their freaking mind.

    On the other hand, I think BJJ is a great sport for kids – I’m all for the kids grappling programs.

    If I’m not mistaken, Luis Gutierrez has an MMA program for kids, but they compete in grappling and BJJ.

    That makes sense to me. It’s safe and jiu jitsu is the “gentle art”. :)



  16. JB on May 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I think Judo is the “gentle art”. Didn’t Jiu Jitsu break off because it was not rough enough? Then BJJ wanted it even tougher?



  17. Mike Massie on May 17, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Ju do – “gentle way”

    jiu jitsu – “gentle art”

    Generally speaking, the “jitsu” suffix will denote an art that predates the budo styles.



  18. Gus K. on June 26, 2010 at 12:10 am

    I’m not an MA instructor. In my spare time I trained in traditional MA and then in MMA around 1995. Traditional MA instructors are roughly in the position of typewriter manufacturers at the time of the rise of word processors. MA instructors have tried a few strategies to cope:

    1. Denial: Tell students that MMA is just a sport. We would use our deadly techniques on the street.
    2. Evasion: We teach values, ethics, culture, tradition etc.
    3. Incorporation of modern techniques: Still teach your TMA but also have MMA coaches come to teach. In the meanwhile, learn BJJ, MT and wrestling yourself. You will eventually phase out your TMA or it will become a specialty offering.
    4. Focus on children’s classes: The customers are the parents who don’t care about effective fighting technique, but do care about #2 (values, etc.)

    1 and 2 are mere stalling tactics. Survival depends on executing 3 and 4.

    As for UFC branded chains, I don’t think that they are a problem. They will only be as good as the local instructors. Students will compete in local amateur MMA ( or BJJ, or MT, etc). If your independent school can offer good coaching at a reasonable, why shouldn’t they train with you? There’s no reason why an independent coach with a small gym can’t train students to fight well. What does a big “UFC” franchise logo on the door really add.

    The analogy with WalMart is imprecise. WalMart requires vast supply chains and economies of scale to bring down prices. A martial arts coach/master just needs a room with some mats. A comparison to independent lawyers or doctors, who don’t need to join a franchise to be good, is more apt.



  19. Mike Massie on June 27, 2010 at 6:14 am

    Gus, you make some interesting points.

    I entirely agree with you that denial is a stalling tactic.

    However, there are still going to be people out there who are willing to pay for TMA classes. Yes, that may require a focus on children’s classes. But, that’s always been the case with TMA schools.

    Just look at all the “chain” taekwondo schools out there that have 200+ student memberships. If you live in any large city, you can find them easily.

    Now, are these schools adding MMA-type training? For the most part, yes.

    Will it help them make more money? That remains to be seen.

    I can tell you for a fact that there are plenty of MMA schools out there that are struggling or that have shut down. Teaching MMA is not the magic formula to success.

    Here’s the core truth that all martial art school owners need to take away from this:

    Even schools that teach extremely low-quality martial arts can be financially successful, if they follow good business practices and protocols. This has been seen time and time again in our industry.

    So, no matter what instructors teach, they need to focus on being experts in business and marketingnot on adopting the latest trends.



  20. Mike on June 27, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Mike:

    I agree with you that marketing is key.
    You wrote:
    “Even schools that teach extremely low-quality martial arts can be financially successful, if they follow good business practices and protocols. This has been seen time and time again in our industry.”

    I’m not an MA school owner; I’m a lawyer and I see that in my business all the time. Some terrible lawyers with good business skills make mony and some good lawyers with bad business skills don’t.

    I should find the time to hit the gym and the mats. You guys are an inspiration. When my daughter’s old enough I’ll put her in MA. No striking or submissions (at first), but some fun basic grappling.

    Good luck to you.



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