"I know it always looks like the Dana White show, but believe me it’s not. It’s me, Frank and Lorenzo (Fertitta) and the incredible staff we put together. That’s the reason I’m here tonight.”
NEW YORK – UFC president Dana White was honored at a New York City gala event Thursday night with the inaugural Sports Media Marketing’s Game Changer Award, presented to him by PromaxBDA, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of new technologies, applications, business models and industries.
The ceremony, which took place in Downtown Manhattan at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, was emceed by comedian Jay Mohr, and put together by Promax president Jonathan Block-Verk.
“He’s done things that are not mainstream,” said Block-Verk of White. “He engages his audience every day. He’s got a one-on-one connection with the fans that other organizations have not been able to achieve.”
“If you look at where we came from when we first bought this company,” said White, “all of the milestones we’ve achieved, like getting back on Pay Per View, getting sanctioned in all these states, getting on television; to get an award like this and be recognized with all the other sports leaders, it’s a great honor and again another milestone in UFC history.”
White was recognized especially for embracing social media and engaging UFC fans and sponsors in a bold and innovative fashion, something that hasn’t been accomplished by any other sports leader.
“Dana is the king of understanding his audience and driving their passions,” said billionaire Mark Cuban, a member of the PromaxBDA voting committee and owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.
“His ability to translate passion into revenue is a model many have tried to emulate but few have been able to execute. I think the take away for marketers is that in some businesses, it takes not only brains, but the force of personality to convert passion into profits and Dana has both,” said Cuban.
That sentiment was shared by Brian Diamond, SVP of sports and specials at Spike TV, the network that airs The Ultimate Fighter, among several other UFC programs.
“He’s got an honest approach, that’s why it works,” says Diamond. “As a partner, Spike knows everything that’s going on with his sport, and one of the most amazing things about him, he is this close (pointing his fingers close to one another), to his audience. There is no distance between him and his audience. He knows them. He takes pictures with them, he does autographs with them, and he’s really sincere about it. And he expects the same from everybody in his organization, whether they are fighters or staff.”
White joined fellow honoree Tony Ponturo, who received the Lifetime Innovator Award after spending nearly three decades as head of Anheuser-Busch’s global sports marketing business.
“It makes me really proud that what I did for those 30 years gets recognized, because at the end of the day, we were just doing the work, building the partnerships and doing the sponsorships,” said Ponturo, who is now a Tony Award winning producer with Broadway shows “Hair” and “Memphis” under his belt. His current project is “Lombardi,” starring Dan Lauria as the iconic football coach, playing at the Circle in the Square Theater.
“Tony knows the business of sports better than anyone,” said Cuban. “He uniquely understands how each sport delivers value to his brand and he has the ability to extract that value , at a value price. It’s a powerful toolset that sets him apart,” he said.
In fact, Ponturo was among the first major sports marketing executives to see the value of the UFC, putting Bud Light inside the Octagon more than three years ago in a multi-million dollar sponsorship deal that helped catapult the UFC into the mainstream consciousness of sports fans.
“We did research on the sport,” said Ponturo. “And we saw that UFC was right up there with the NFL and Major League Baseball when it came to fan loyalty and recognition among 24-34 year old beer drinkers.”
“Talk about UFC milestones,” said White. “Growing up, one of the main things I remember about being a boxing fan was ‘Budweiser King of Beers, Budweiser King of Beers,’ and the day that we put on the event with Bud Light in the center of the Octagon was a big day. Lorenzo and I were blown away by that. And honestly, Tony Ponturo is the guy that made it all happen. And here was a guy who was dealing with the NFL, Major League Baseball , the NBA, big boxing matches, you name it, and from day one he’s treated us with nothing but respect.”
White said he was honored to receive the prestigious award, particularly since it is awarded by sports industry heavyweights; however he stops short at taking all the credit.
“The fact that these guys have given me the support and chose me for this award blows me away,” said White. “But there is no Dana White without the UFC. Me and my partners have made this thing what is today. The three of us have great synergy together. I know it always looks like the Dana White show, but believe me it’s not. It’s me, Frank and Lorenzo (Fertitta) and the incredible staff we put together. That’s the reason I’m here tonight.”