Watching the 2010 opening Olympic ceremony, if you didn't fast forward through the commercials you may have seen one of your favorite MMA fighters being featured in a Nike commercial titled, Human Chain. Rampage Jackson was the MMA fighter featured in the Nike campaign. To our knowledge this is the first time an MMA fighter has appeared in a mainstream Nike commercial, let alone take the leading role. During the climax of the 60-second Nike commercial, Rampage Jackson took over the spot light - thus further catapulting his importance in bringing the sport into the mainstream. It was only a matter of time that Nike would break into the fastest growing sport in the world and there are several questions that now remain. What does this mean for the smaller MMA-focused apparel companies, and what does this mean for Rampage Jackson?
We think that the MMA-related apparel companies can see this as a good sign and that most of them shouldn't be worried at all. Hardcore MMA fans will always stay loyal to Affliction, Bad Boy, Cage Fighter, TapouT, Throwdown and a few of the other large players. However you probably won't see the casual fans wearing any of these brands, and the casual fans is who Nike is after. So opportunity exists for the larger MMA-related brands to reach a new customer base as long as they bring down the volume of some of their designs to play to their intended audience. The other factor to point out is that in the next few years you probably won't see Nike's logo in the octagon or having many if any of the fighters being sponsored by Nike. If Nike does sponsor an athlete, Nike probably won't be paying these MMA fighters because the athletes need Nike more than Nike needs the MMA fighters. The fact that Nike has waited so long to jump into MMA has the potential to be a tremendously successful strategic decision for the brand because MMA needs a large brand like Nike to bring the sport mainstream. The last point I'll propose is that Nike could be looking to partner with one of the MMA-focused brands to help transition them into the sport and to connect Nike with the hardcore MMA fans. If you noticed in the commercial, Rampage Jackson was head to toe in Throwdown Industries gear bringing speculation that a partnership between Throwdown Industries & Nike could be brewing. Also worth pointing out was that the logical partner (UFC) was nowhere to be found in the commercial, keep an eye on this!
Now onto Rampage Jackson. It is without a question that Rampage Jackson has taken the front lead in becoming the face of mixed martial arts. He has the fighting skills, the fan following and he the Ali-like persona that a brand such as Nike has been looking for. Rampage Jackson knows the importance of building his image and creating the character, and it is beginning to pay-off. Even the "retirement" in our opinion was a well-planned marketing ploy to further build up his personal brand and create his hype. 2010 will be a big year for Rampage Jackson, with his movie, The A-Team, debuting & a potential return to the UFC to face arch-rival Rashad Evans will be even bigger than it was before. Dana White & the UFC has had it's differences (or maybe that is another ingenious marketing ploy) with Rampage Jackson in the past but the fact is that the UFC needs Rampage Jackson. We expect to see Rampage Jackson in a few more Nike spots moving forward and maybe even an ESPN spot or two.
What do you think...will 2010 be the year Nike breaks into mixed martial arts...is Rampage Jackson the man to lead MMA into a mainstream sport?