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Volume 20 No. 41
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Plugged In: Tracey Bleczinski, UFC

Tracey Bleczinski left the security of the NFL’s licensing program in 2013 to relaunch the UFC’s consumer products business. As the UFC’s relatively small consumer products licensing program restarts, Reebok signed on as the master apparel licensee, and an RFP is out for a vendor to handle the venue retailing at 40-plus annual events. A decision is due soon for a deal that would begin in the second quarter.

We’re transitioning from a vertically integrated system to a traditional licensing model. Once we complete that process with a partner to do our event retailing, we’ll have the foundation to scale and grow.

Photo by: ZUFFA LLC
On UFC’s licensing relaunch: When I started here in 2013, we were designing our own apparel, producing it, selling and distributing it ourselves. So we had to exit that and build it back up with a different model, with new foundational partners, like Reebok. Bringing on an athlete outfitter like Reebok for the first time took a lot of time to figure out … from an operations perspective. … When you think about an NBA or NFL team, they have equipment managers that handle all that. We don’t have teams, so our equipment managers sit in the consumer products group. We had to figure out how to outfit athletes on an almost weekly basis globally. Every event we go to, we need to create new customized apparel for every fighter and their three cornermen. We had to spend a lot of time figuring that out before we could rebuild our [licensing] program.

On opportunities for UFC licensed product: Our e-commerce business has grown, but we really are just scratching the service in terms of brick-and-mortar retail distribution. We have around 40 licensees and not much of a footprint in Europe and Asia, so that’s a big blank canvas. … Looking at apparel only, it’s close to 50/50 e-commerce and venue sales. As our only significant apparel partner, Reebok is the lion’s share of that.

How far along are they? Compared to UFC overall, which has really gotten into the pop culture mainstream, our licensed business is in its infancy. We aggregate our licensing rights of our athletes and handle their rights also. Our business runs about 50/50 athletes to property. We’ve built the foundation of the business, now we are ready to start scaling it.

What are the strongest regions for UFC licensed products? Las Vegas — and since we have the most events there, that makes sense. Overseas, we have a nice [consumer products] business growing in Russia; both Reebok and EA do well there, and we have not yet had an event there. We also do well in the U.K., and Brazil is huge for us. We’re looking at growth in all of those regions.

On the biggest challenge of building the UFC’s consumer products business: This is such a long-lead business. The deals we are talking about doing now, some are 18 months to retail, from signing to shipping. Things like digital media have everyone used to things that are instantaneous, but this business has a different pace.

— Terry Lefton