Ronda Rousey's dominance in the sport of mixed martial arts led to her name becoming part of popular culture but will her shock defeat harm her brand appeal too?
At 28 years-old Ronda Rousey is undoubtedly one of the most marketable female athletes on the planet, with sponsors ranging from lifestyle brands to mobile networks and appearances in blockbuster films. The UFC fighter has used her dominance of the sport to build a brand which has transcended the confined realms of mixed martial arts fighting. However can her brand endure now that she is no longer the untouchable titian the sport has portrayed her as?
This past weekend Melbourne Australia hosted UFC 193, the highest attended event in the company’s 22-year history with over 56,000 fans turning out to see ‘the baddest woman on the planet’ take on massive underdog Holly Holm. The fight was a huge upset however when Holm brutally knocked out the champion in the second round, ending her undefeated record. Rousey's last three fights had lasted a combined 64 seconds; no other woman had been on the same level as the judo Olympic bronze medallist. It is this superiority alongside her charisma and beauty which has allowed her to forge her name into popular culture.
After the her defeat many commentators suggested that Rousey's gargantuan status was thanks to slick PR rather than her fighting prowess, arguing that her competition was weak up until this point. Such public doubts over her ability following the devastating defeat fuel speculation as to whether her status and appeal have also suffered. Will brands be as eager to sign up the UFC star, especially given the humble and gentle nature of the woman who handed the 12-0 fighter her first defeat? Or will the attention of the shock cascade any criticism and generate more publicity for her?
Joel Seymour-Hyde, vice president of strategy at sports marketing firm Octagon is adamant that her name will endure.
“Everyone loves a recovery story and fans will be intrigued to see how she comes back from this - it's a whole new angle to the story,” he said before adding “a few defeats didn't do Muhammad Ali too much harm at the Box Office."
Marie Binet, head of insight at sports marketing agency Stadia Solutions was of the same opinion, arguing that “it could be good news for her career”.
Binet believes that the coverage of the upset and potential for a rematch will create “an opportunity to drive extra commercial value through fan engagement”.
“She has made her mark in the sport – she has legacy. Without her, UFC wouldn’t be where it is now. As a star female athlete, she has become a huge role model and created her own space,” said Binet.
She added that “the marketability of star female athletes in general is very much on the rise.
“An athlete is the same as a football club – the strongest ones can still control their marketability and value despite their performance on the pitch.
“Has Manchester United lost any sponsorship revenue over the last three years despite average performances on the pitch? Not really…”
Pitch account director Nick Meakin argued that “her brand partners didn’t sign her as an ambassador because they thought she would never lose a fight, they partnered with her because they believed her profile and professionalism would be an asset to their businesses”.
Despite the questions raised over her status as the best female fighter in the world, Rousey’s marketing appeal looks likely to grow and the media attention she will generate next year will likely see more brands eager to partner with her.