This article appeared in the March 2016 edition of Business Review Australia.
THIS ISN’T ANOTHER story about a start-up growing into a new hot trend before quickly running out of steam. With a new emerging Australian market centred around women and children, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) GYM franchise appears to be here to stay. Last year’s epic UFC 193 bout between underdog Holly Holm and global icon ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey drew over 56,000 fans at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium, the highest attendance in UFC history. With another UFC event set for March 20 in Brisbane, the sport’s popularity is at an all-time high. “(UFC 193) drove the UFC brand to a mainstream media in Australia,” said UFC GYM Australia CEO Maz Hagemrad. “There was media coverage surrounding that fight for months, and that really assisted us in what we’re trying to achieve.” The brand has quickly capitalised on this, as at the end of 2015, UFC GYM announced its partnership with Ultimate Franchising Group to expand into Australia.
PLANS FOR EXPANSION
Since making its debut in 2009, UFC GYM has opened over 135 locations combined throughout Australia, the United States and Canada. The Sydney gym was opened by the United States team in March 2013, while the franchise model was initially launched in November 2015. Hagemrad believes most Australians have had a connection with mixed martial arts (MMA) at some point in their lives, and the gym’s expansion will bring a fresh, new style of fitness to the country along with it. “The Australian market is an extremely sports-orientated market in general,” said Hagemrad. “The UFC brand is growing here in Australia. “The fitness industry has been yearning for something different, and the UFC Gym brand is exactly that. It brings an innovative new fresh feel to the fitness industry, using MMA as the core of the training. “It teaches you fitness, but it also teaches you discipline, respect and all the morals that go with it. It’s bringing those arts into a fitness arena, and that has never been done before.” Although there weren’t any monumental challenges in bringing UFC facilities to Australia, Hagemrad acknowledge the sport had to overcome the popular misconception of bodily harm associated with it.
That’s where Hagemrad makes his presence felt. With a sports background as a former physiotherapist, his primary duty is to engage with perspective franchisees and promote and educate them about UFC. “The UFC brand in general is well-received in Australia,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a bit of a stigma around the sport being brutal and violent. We continue to communicate to the public that the sport isn’t as brutal and violent as it’s perceived to be. It’s no different than playing rugby or any other contact sport. The difference is we’ve got two people going at it here, compared to 30 people on the field going at it.”
Hagemrad insists that CrossFit, Brazilian jiu-jitsu or any other activity performed at the UFC GYM is no more risky than any other exercise — as long as you do it correctly. “Any exercise we do, if it’s done correctly with the correct technique, it’s as safe as any other sport,” said Hagemrad.
WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST
After spending three years convincing executives at the Sydney gym to add him to the group, Hagemrad acknowledged his biggest task since coming on board in 2013 was getting people engaged with the brand, and helping them understand that women and children are the biggest focus of its business plan. It’s among the main reasons Hagemrad felt so strongly about the brand in Australia. With youth and female classes representing an integral part of UFC’s programming, he believes they will benefit the most. In fact, Magemrad said the brand is directed toward children and families, which is a key differentiating point than most clubs around the world. “Most clubs don’t let kids into their facilities, whereas we’ve gone the exact polar opposite,” he said. “Kids are a prominent feature in our clubs.”
JUST THE BEGINNING
UFC Gym Australia is seeking aggressive expansion throughout the country, from the Eastern Seaboard all the way to Western Australia. Hagemrad asserts there has been significant interest throughout the nation. Hagemrad is well-versed in the different types of activities and exercises, and can add an analytical and objective opinion based on his academic and clinical experience. There’s plenty of exclusiveness that comes along with being part of UFC GYM training programs that no others brand can get access to. Memberships include unlimited access to UFC Octagon and signature classes such as Daily Ultimate Training (DUT), TRX, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, boxing, mixed martial arts conditioning, women’s self-defence, as well as popular group fitness classes. Although it’s still in franchise development phase, there are ample opportunities to capitalise on since it provides such excellent value proposition to the consumer. “We’ve got a strategic plan over the next 10 years for the Australian market,” he said. “We’re seeking aggressive expansion across the country. Franchisee interest is quite high now, and we’re going to capitalise on that.”
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