SINGAPORE: Overcoming a negative brand perception has been key to progressing the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) brand in Southeast Asia, says a senior executive at the company.

Speaking to Warc, Scott Boyd, VP of South & South East Asia for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), admitted that mixed martial arts (MMA) has had a long journey to be taken seriously as a mainstream sport, but said that investment in changing the perception of MMA has paid off handsomely.

The UFC sold this year for more than US$4bn earlier this year and is now one of the world's most high-profile sports leagues, broadcasting its fights in 156 countries. (For details on how UFC is approaching the particular challenges of Asian markets, read Warc's exclusive report: UFC takes on a brand-building fight in South East Asia.)

"People have historically just seen (MMA) as cage fighting – it's rough and ready and aggressive. But I think people have seen the evolution… in terms of people's mindsets towards combat sports as a whole," Boyd said.

"What we try to invest time, effort and money into doing is talking about who we are as a brand... It's not about being contrived and trying to paint a picture, it's just giving people a more accurate version of perhaps the story they've been told historically," he explained.

A snappy format which lends itself well to mobile and social media platforms drives popularity among millennials, the company's core audience.

"It just fits with that kind of millennial mindset of consuming short clips, especially on mobile devices," Boyd said.

While the UFC knows millennials are a critical part of its audience, Boyd also believes that the company can't afford to take such a narrow approach.

"We need to be reaching the massive cross-section of demographics that we have, from the millennials to the older boxing fans that have been converted," he said.

"Fandom has changed a lot with the accessibility of content and the number of different touch points that there are. Now, simply clicking a button to say you like something kind of makes you a fan. For us it's no longer really about being a master of one trade, it's not 'jack of all trades and master of none', it literally is 'master of all'."

Data sourced from Warc