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Friday 20 September 2019

'Sucker punch may spell end for McGregor' - expert

Controversy has dogged Conor McGregor
Controversy has dogged Conor McGregor

One of the world's leading sports marketing experts has warned that Conor 'The Notorious' McGregor's latest controversy could herald the beginning of the end for the fighter's commercial appeal.

The mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter again found himself in the headlines for the wrong reasons after video footage emerged of him sucker-punching a middle-aged man in a Dublin pub.

McGregor went on US sports channel ESPN to admit he was "in the wrong" and claimed it was "like a dagger into my heart as a martial artist".

The Crumlin fighter said he "must come here before you and take accountability and take responsibility - I'm just here to own up to [my mistake] and move on".

Relevance

However, leading sports marketing guru Kim Skildum-Reid - who is due to address the prestigious One-Zero 2019 conference at the Aviva Stadium on September 17 - warned that the latest controversy to involve the fighter could prove fatally damaging for his all-conquering marketability.

"Unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat, making himself legitimately marketable in the long term, his relevance and following are going to fade with his career, and his sponsorship prospects with it," she said.

Ms Skildum-Reid warned the succession of controversies involving McGregor could effectively accelerate the end of his career in commercial terms.

"With his repeated run-ins with the law, all along a similar vein, his brand is turning from 'fearsome competitor in a violent sport' to 'violent, entitled bully'," she said.

"Some very edgy sponsors may - may - be able to wear that, but he's been getting in the neighbourhood of $7m [€6.3m] a year from Reebok, Beats, Burger King, and Budweiser.

"There's a huge chunk of their marketplaces that would view continued sponsorship of someone who is making it a habit of violent outbursts against the public as endorsing that behaviour, and they would be right.

"They would have been right 10 years ago, but with toxic masculinity so much at the forefront with consumers, and major corporations undertaking huge staff-training programmes to stem inappropriate behaviour, continuing to sponsor someone who appears not to be able to control his violent impulses is both a marketing and management minefield that few companies would have the stomach to risk."

The 31-year-old Crumlin fighter has been the focus of multiple controversies over recent years but has managed to juggle them with a hugely successful commercial operation.

His commercial team is considered one of the shrewdest in global sport and has built his brand into a vast operation.

As well as his direct sporting endorsements and sponsorships, he has branched into branding with his own Proper No 12 Irish whiskey product.

He also boasts his own clothing line.

Anger

His career arguably peaked in 2017 when he fought Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas in a boxing bout which had been in negotiation for more than three years - the combined purse was a startling €100m.

However, the controversies have mounted steadily since.

In 2018, he was sentenced to five days' community service and told to attend anger management courses in New York after pleading no contest to attacking a bus containing rival fighters at the Barclays Centre.

In 2017, he jumped into the ring following the end of one MMA contest and his behaviour was later slated as jeopardising the health and safety of fellow competitors.

Then in 2018, he made derogatory comments about fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov's father, before Nurmagomedov emphatically beat the Dubliner in a bout.

In 2019, McGregor was arrested outside a Miami Beach hotel in Florida after a confrontation in which a fan claimed his phone was smashed.

However, charges of robbery and criminal mischief were later dismissed.

Ms Skildum-Reid said there is no hiding from the fact the fighter's recent controversies are hugely damaging for his commercial brand.

"Conor McGregor's age, as well as the frequency and quality of his fights, point to him being in the latter stages of his career," she said.

"This makes his recent behaviour both more imprudent and more damaging.

"While he's got a huge social media following, and owns a mixed-reviews whiskey brand, I predict sustaining fan interest and sponsorship revenue as his career winds down is going to be a struggle.

"This is a sport where there is no shortage of young talent with big personalities.

"The only way he competes, in a marketing sense, is if he is either a legitimate legend in the sport or knowledgeable, charismatic, and very media-friendly.

"If I were advising his sponsors, I'd be telling them to - at the very least - take a strong stand against his behaviour, demand a management plan and review from McGregor and his manager, review the disrepute clauses in their contracts, and start vetting other options in the MMA space.

"For most of them, however, the better option is to exit."

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