Author’s note: In this series, FORBES SportsMoney will cover the most influential professional MMA promotions on a global and domestic (U.S.) scale, catching up with high-ranking executives to learn about each organization’s biggest business developments as 2017 gets into full swing.
We start our series with Combate Americas, a Hispanic MMA franchise founded by UFC co-creator Campbell McLaren that launched as a reality series in 2014.
While its counterparts are focused primarily on the U.S. market, Combate Americas has quickly carved out a niche in Mexico with an eye toward further expansion in South America.
The promotion closed out 2016 with a milestone partnership, signing on with Mexican multimedia conglomerate Azteca, which broadcasts on free TV domestically. Beginning in January, Combate began airing monthly fight cards as well as a weekly highlights show. The early reception has been staggering — an average of 3 million viewers per broadcast.
McLaren, Combate’s founder and CEO, pointed to recent ratings from the UFC and Bellator to put that number into context.
“The UFC on Fox (23) show in the U.S. did about 3 million (rating), and Bellator (170) did about 1.8 (million rating),” McLaren said. “Mexico has less TV homes than the U.S., so we’re beating Bellator and the UFC in terms of households.”
McLaren and former pro wrestler/fighter Alberto Del Rio, who was named company president in October, are also confident Combate will supplant the UFC as Mexico's clear-cut MMA leader sometime this year.
But they aren’t stopping at Mexico. In January, Combate 10 became the first MMA event to air on ESPN Latin America, which broadcasts to 16 countries across Central and South America. Two of those countries are already on McLaren’s radar as potential new markets.
“Columbia will probably be our next target for events,” McLaren said. “There’s also a huge MMA scene in Peru. But Columbia is a great TV market, bigger economy, bigger country, so Columbia is probably where we’re going to start in South America.”
With Del Rio leading the charge, a lot of Combate's business is now being conducted south of the border. But efforts to grow the brand are also coming from their braintrust back in the states. That includes lead investor Joe Plumeri, an accomplished financial services and sports industry entrepreneur who was recently appointed Board of Directors Chairman.
In his new role, Plumeri will assist McLaren with strategic decision-making on domestic and international growth. There’s plenty of work to be done on the former, as both readily admitted, but Plumeri is bullish on Combate’s prospects given the strength of their target demographic.
“The population of Hispanics in the United States is going to grow rapidly — that’s just a data fact,” Plumeri said. “But when I look at the business of MMA, there’s something greater than that. We’re also in the business of celebrating Hispanic life, Hispanic character and Hispanic heart, which differentiates us from other organizations.”
McLaren also feels their unique approach will be advantageous in cornering the market.
“The UFC does not think about the heritage of fighters because it’s not built to be like that,” McLaren said. “It’s built to be how the individual represents the UFC, and that’s not wrong. We’re allowing ethnicities a
nd heritage and culture to be at the forefront, and that’s how we can stake a claim to Mexico and the rest of South America and the Hispanic U.S.”