Garry Cook - Chief Global Brand Officer, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Share PDF Print E-mail
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Garry Cook is the Chief Global Brand Officer at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and has been in the role since September 2014 after previously spending two years in the role of Managing Director and EVP (EMEA).

Prior to joining UFC, Garry spent four years as the CEO of English Premier League Champions Manchester City. In his early career Garry also enjoyed 12 years in various roles with Nike.    

By Tariq Saleh

Can you tell us about your new role as the Chief Global Officer of UFC?

The role is really one of evolution for the business; we’ve grown in 13 years faster than any other sports organisation, but originally we were a promotion of fight events and as time goes on we moved from being a fight promoter to being a global media company and it means that we have a much deeper connection with fans and consumers around the world from a brand perspective.

So there’s the traditional operational pieces of the business, whether its finance, legal etc., we’re in massive TV production base but it’s really now how do we grow our international businesses, how do we connect with fans and talk about the deep stories that the athletes have and its more than just the live promotion of the events.

You previously worked at Manchester City FC, what are the main differences working for a football club and working for UFC?

When you’re working in a football club you can change the dynamics of the football club, you have to try and do that with, in most cases, over 100 years of history, so you have to be cognizant of the history and be respectful of it but you’ve still got to take a football club into the future and I think at Manchester City we did that.

Whether it was infrastructure, making infrastructure fit for purpose as to be the world’s greatest and biggest football club, whether it was putting players on the field, they’re all intrinsic of building a football club.

But the difference is you can’t change football, the television mechanism is owned by the league, football is governed by the football association and all of those things you can’t control, you can only control your football club and I think at UFC one of the compelling arguments for why it’s a great opportunity is that it’s changing the landscape of sport.

We own all the intellectual property, we work directly with the fighters, we produce all of our own content, we produce all of our own live shows, so it’s very similar to formula one in a lot of cases and we’ve seen the growth of F1. The difference between F1 and us is that we can have as many events as we want every year so we’re not limited by our own capacity to grow and I think that’s a compelling difference but it’s also about changing the face of sport.

Did you bring any expertise from MCFC to UFC?

I would hope I did, I spent 12 years at Nike around the world and there are a lot of similarities in sport that we all deal with. There is usually a theatre or a stadium, there is usually an audience, which are the fans, the consumers, the people who consume by virtue of buying into the proposition and there are the theatre stars, the actors, the players, the fighters and so the comparisons are all very similar so how do you take those elements and bring them across with you?

There are always three things in any business and currently it really is our focus at the Ultimate Fighting Championship that it’s about people, people is a massively underutilised asset of any business, you’ve got to have the right people, the right commitment to the vision, and I think that’s important, we did that at Manchester City and we’re doing that at UFC.

I think the brand is more than just a fight or just a football game; you can actually take your commercial proposition around the world so we’re bringing that skill set across as well and then finally international business growth, a football club was very local to Manchester but actually it can be a global brand and they’re seeing that.

Manchester City has now invested in New York City and Melbourne City and I think the same for us at UFC, we’re truly a global brand. We’ve done a deal with EA Sports who look at us as the second only global property to FIFA because of our growth in Brazil, Mexico, Canada, in Europe, so bringing those skills across are all learnings so if you’ve been in the industry for 30 years you can hopefully take some stuff with you wherever you go.


You joined UFC in 2012, what challenges did you face when you joined?

The business operating model was not set up for future success, there’s a great book by Marshall Goldsmith called ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’ and we were in Europe operating as an event promotion operating organisation so everybody would fly to Brazil or Macau or wherever the next international event would be taking place and what I was concerned about was that we’re really in four businesses; in the event management business, content production creation distribution, commerce (where we have commercial partners) and brand communications.

So if you look at those four pillars we weren’t rooted in those pillars in the European, Middle East and African regions and my job was to build the business model and build the organisation which takes 9 months and when I joined there were 5 people in the organisation focused on operating and now there are over 20 in the region. We’ve got a continued runway of growth predicted out for the next three years so I guess again its back to people, brand and international business development.

Have you seen any major changes since you joined UFC?

One of the major changes that I’ve seen is the reaction of sports administrators to our presence. It’s very easy to ignore the new kid on the block and it’s very easy to criticise our sport because we have our critics I won’t deny that, but the truth of it is our television product is in close to a billion homes, that’s a big number around the world.

We have some of the highest levels of competitiveness within our athletes and our athletes actually surpass human potential and the surprise for me, whether it’s soccer players, NFL players or NBA players, they revere the MMA athletes as the fittest athletes.

So I think the surprise for me is the ‘aha’ moment that everybody seems to deliver when you tell them how big, what we do, what it’s all about and it’s about education and awareness and we’ve done different conference facilities where we’ve introduced our owners and our presidents to people and told the story.

13 years ago, just 13 years ago, our owners bought this business for $2 million and we’re now in over a billion homes around the world and I think that’s the surprising element.


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