The Curious Case Of “The Phantom Casual Fan Offensive” in Muay Thai and Kickboxing

Why Hasn’t Muay Thai and Kickboxing Caught On Yet?

Part 1 – Exposure

“An offensive is a military operation that seeks through aggressive projection of armed force to occupy territory, gain an objective or achieve some larger strategic, operational or tacticalgoal. Another term for man offensive often used by the media is ‘invasion’, or the more general ‘attack’.”

joe schilling vs simon marcus ko kickboxing gloryYou can’t log on to any social media site or have a conversation for very long with any serious fan or practitioner of Muay Thai and Kickboxing without the topic of “How can we grow our sport?” being brought up.

This is especially the case when it comes to those two sports in the United States.

A Decade Of Growth

Muay Thai and Kickboxing in the United States has seen a slight resurgence over the last 10 years.

However, contrary to what a lot of us may like to believe, this growth has had very little to do with our own concerted efforts to facilitate the growth of our sport and more to do with us being caught in the rather fortunate draft created by the [seemingly] overnight explosion of a combat sport juggernaut known as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Because of MMA, more Joe Blows hear about Muay Thai or Kickboxing and through simple cause and effect we will naturally have more people here and there who want to check us out.

It’s the “Trickle Down Economics” of the fight game. [Word to Ronald Reagan, son!] The issue is that many of us do not realize that Trickle Down Growth is not at all a sustainable means of growth. It means that you live and die by the prosperity of someone above you.

I will happily admit that this Trickle Down Growth has not been without its slow burning [temporary] benefits.

It has been a blessing because in the wake of K1’s death we managed to gain the likes of Lion Fight, GloryFC, Legacy, and Enfusion which are all the shit if you ask me. However, living in the vacuum of a draft does not allow enough oxygen for an independent explosion of our sport and it’s benefits will not last forever. And if we get complacent in the gains made thanks to MMA’s runoff then our sport will eventually die down again.

The Accepted Problem

I think that right now Muay Thai and Kickboxing only appeal to the “pure” fans so to speak. We all know it. We are the athletes and striking scholars of our world, be it in the ring or just in the gym, living & breathing the sport.

Whether we like it or not, these are the types of fans we need to market to if we want the sport to grow to the likes of MMA.

Whether we like it or not, these are the types of fans we need to market to if we want the sport to grow to the likes of MMA.

Unfortunately, we are not the people who should be marketed to and yet we are the only people the sport is marketed to. This is the first mistake that is being commonly made by promotions.

Some of us like to be so self-important that we feel we should be, but the fact of the matter is that we are going to be here for our sport no matter what [as long as the events keep being televised] so why bother to aggressively pander to your base when you know it’s going to be there? This isn’t to say that the promotions should abandon us all together, but we can’t be the focus or the sport will never grow.

There has to be a clear cut and productive “Casual Fan Offensive”.

For growth, you have to keep your base happy so that you don’t lose ground. However, you have to put the bulk of your time, energy, & money into building on top of that base. That’s common sense marketing right there. Especially when u can’t rely on your base to grow the attraction for you.

That’s another mistake being made most by even the more popular amongst our circle, promotions.

By promotions not truly actively trying to brand themselves in a way that reaches casual combat sport fans [meatheads Hooters waitresses, bar guys, etc…] it implies that it’s up to us diehards to do it and… well… it’s not gonna happen because of us. It can happen despite us, but not because of us and certainly not in any manner that would cause an explosion of interest that I feel our sport and those who love it seriously need and desire.

Let’s face it, we can be sort of a snobby crowd as combat sport fans go. We’re obsessive striking fans who lose our shit when someone calls Rafael Dos Anjos [UFC Lightweight Champion] an elite striker and that can be annoying to the random “casual” fan. It turns them off.

Don’t get me wrong, through baser causality we, The Snobby 1%, will convert or grow a fan here and there but only those who can stomach us… and that’s not going to happen frequently or rapidly enough to truly explode the sport the way we say we want.

In some cases the promotions, after stating in so many words that courting casual fans may not be worth the effort or money, flat out say things such as;

“[We] think if the real MT fans are committed to spreading the positive virtues of our sport and the strides that have been made to their followers rather than focusing on the negative aspects it would be a greater service to the sport.”

That statement is beautiful in a very noble and idealistic sort of way, but there are a few hiccups in that frame of thought when it comes to marketing, growth and revenue.

muay thai wai kru thailand

The wai kru is one of the most beautiful aspects of Muay Thai, but most casual fans don’t want a cultural history lesson when watching fights.

The first hiccup being the phrase “real MT fans” [which I will touch on shortly].

The second being “their followers”.

And the third being the ‘read between the lines’ aspect of the fact that relying on The Snobby 1% of us to grow the sport keeps promotions from having to spend money to attract casual fans, which will keep the growth slow and thus prolong the coming of days when fighters in our sport can achieve big pay-days.

One caveat that promotions should heed when relying on The Snobby 1% to recruit & indoctrinate is that telling our followers about the strides made builds no new fan base as the term “followers” implies that they already know and follow the sport.

The second caveat is that we’ll essentially be filling our ranks with the same type of people that scare off the casual fans. This will only ensure that Muay Thai and Kickboxing remain fringe sports.

Ponder This…

“Why did Bush beat Gore in 2000 U.S. presidential election?” — All politics, cheating, & Florida voting booth scandals aside, it was simply because Bush’s branding was better.

It was fucking genius, if I’m being quite honest. That simple man could relate to the average simple person and, let’s face it, there are more of them than there are of the lunatic fringe. Cheney was the scary purist who kept the base in tow but without the common man Bush would have lost. The Republican base will always vote in force just like us, The Snobby 1%, will always be here for our sport. But without the casual fan our sport will sink.

The Philosophical Strategy

The hard pill to swallow is that the men/women running the promotions cannot be purists and, if they are purists, they can’t allow themselves to think like one or they need to hire a branding & marketing team who knows how ignore the “I h8 WWE trash talk! Harrumph!” gripes of The Snobby 1% in order to give the casual fans what they need to become interested.

This isn’t to say that the promotions should go “Full Heel” but where there is push you have to have pull or the balance is off. Right now our sport is all push with no pull or vice versa depending on if you’re a half full or half empty type of person. But either way, the balance is off so a tipping point [for anyone familiar with that business philosophy] must be found.

The Folly of the Snobby 1%

Most “casual fans” will never step foot into a Muay Thai gym

I love when I hear someone seriously say;

“If you wanna know what kickboxing is about…Come try a class!”

That’s a very Snobby 1% way of saying;

“I don’t want to deal with you unless you are tough enough to do what I do.”

This speaks to that “real MT fan” mentality I pointed out earlier. Some of us don’t mean it that way, but many of us do, deep down. And we think saying, “Come try a class.”, will will attract more fans? Nope! It may get more people into the gym but it won’t necessarily create a fan.

Remember what I said about The Snobby 1% only appealing to those with snobby elitest potential? So, if we’re banking on pure baser causality to grow the sport then we’re playing to lose. It’s all farming and no hunting. It’s the difference between a champion who fights to win (Jon Jones) and a champion who fights to not lose (GSP).

But here is specifically why the “come try a class” approach will not work for building the casual fan base.

  1. We all know plenty of people who train just to stay in shape and couldn’t give a damn about watching a fight or finding out about them. If you own a gym then you know that it is primarily the “fitness clients” who could care less about the positive virtues of our sport (or watching our sport for that matter). It’s not the fighters and fanatics who keep the lights on. They just wanna be able to eat a bunch of shit without blowing up. Fair enough.
  2. What in the history of combat sports teaches us that the way to attract casual fans is by goading them into putting their face in front of a punch? Nothing. The logic of the cause relative to the term “casual” doesn’t even jive with the intended affect. Which bring me to…
  3. It is a tiny tiny percentage of people who watch boxing or even MMA who actually have trained a day in their life. Keyboard warriors a plenty; very few actual warriors.

“Dammit! How do promotions attract casual fans if the scary obsessive fans can’t do it for them for free!?”

The promotions have to give casual fans the three main things that turn them on. The first of those three is both the over all question and part of the answer.

EXPOSURE! EXPOSURE! EXPOSURE!

Exposure to the sport? No. Fuck that!

The entire world knows Muay Thai and Kickboxing exist and yet most of world could give a rats ass about watching it. I’m talking exposure to the FIGHTERS. Teams! Personalities! Someone to love! Someone to hate!

badr hari vs alistar overeem kickboxing fight

Badr Hari has been one of the most polarizing figures in kickboxing with his “don’t give a shit” attitude.

Answer this question, “Who specifically do you LOVE in Muay Thai or Kickboxing?!”

I’ll answer for you. EVERYONE! Even if you’re not particularly a fan of a fighter you still love the shit out of them because most of us get off on talking all about respecting anyone who steps in the ring blah blah blah…

If you love everyone, who do you hate? NO ONE!

In the comments below, name one person in Muay Thai or Kickboxing who is more or less universally hated.

The closest person I can think of is Badr Hari but no one really hated him. If Badr Hari showed up in any of our gyms we’d freak. There is no one in our sport that we can all or mostly say “You know what…fuck that guy!”, and that’s a problem!

From a purist’s standpoint it’s beautiful, but from a marketing & business standpoint not only is it a problem, but it is a HUGE problem! It’s the Al Gore being boring as hell every day of his political life sort of problem born.

As I was saying; all push and no pull.

Questions

How many fighters are under contract with Glory or Lion Fight or Legacy or Enfusion and when do they fight next?

What camps do these guys/women come from?

Who else is the shit from their camp?

Any beefs?

Anything remotely interesting about them at all?

The most common answer, even among many purists will be… “Who the hell knows?”

If it’s a bad thing that the purists don’t know this then it is a REALLY big problem because that means that the casual fans don’t know any of this shit at all! This ultimately means there is NO fighter appeal to casual fans due to lack of fighter exposure and the sport will not grow. Simple causality.

No one knows these fighters and that’s a problem. Our sport, simply put, is not accessible to the casual fan.

How can you grow a sport that doesn’t provide or distribute information needed to at least give people something to know about the fighters that will interest them? Hope the scary obsessive diehards do it for you when even many of them can’t answer those questions?

Stay tuned. The final two installments of this series will outline what I believe to be the final two pieces required to carry out a true Casual Fan Offensive.

Click here to continue reading Part 2

Agree or disagree with what I’m saying? All (respectful) opinions are welcome, leave a comment below!

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