Published on Friday, 30 March 2012 23:35
MMA Elite: More Than Just A Clothing Company
by Jody Kohn
With the rise of mixed martial arts, there has also been a huge rise in the popularity of the clothing that goes with it. Tapout, Bad Boy, Affliction and a host of other brands can be seen in not only gyms across the country, but everywhere else. What may surprise you is that the largest of them all is the MMA Elite brand. With sales that exceeded 85 million last year, MMA Elite has exploded in popularity. With affordable products, big name fighters wearing their brand, and owners that are loyal to the fans and fighters, it's easy to see why they have grown as fast as they have.
Alden Halpern is the man behind MMA Elite. He didn't start it from scratch, but rather purchased it when it was in deep financial trouble. Through sheer determination and a vision to "provide the best quality for the lowest price," he has completely transformed the brand.
"We believe that we must bring product that our competitors are selling for $30 for $10" Halpern said.
His partnership with Walmart has helped make that possible. Landing an account with a company the size of the mega chain is a sure way to build sales while at the same time keeping costs low. Now fans of MMA are able to show support while not spending a fortune like they do on some other brands (Affliction anyone?).
"Walmart has been a great partner," Halpern said. "They have started to roll out MMA Elite stores within the Walmart stores."
Additionally, their other division, MMA Authentics is available in many other stores. Halpern is expecting huge growth within that division this year.
Of course apparel is not all that MMA Elite offers in their ever expanding product line. Energy drinks, flavored replenishment waters, sunglasses, body sprays, body soaps, watches, sheets and pillow cases, shower curtains, supplements, shoes and athletic shoes are all available to fans of the brand. In addition, they just opened in 27 countries worldwide.
Great business decisions are fine. And partnering with Walmart is a sure way to boost sales. But it takes more than that to get to the top and stay there. And that is where MMA Elite does some of it's best work.
I attended a recent signing at Walmart stores here in Vegas in which MMA Elite brought in some of their fighters to promote the launch of some supplements that would soon be available on Walmart shelves. BJ Penn, Mark Coleman, Cheik Kongo, King Mo, and Rampage Jackson were all on hand for the festivities.
People flocked to the events, lines wrapping around the entire store as fans waited to get autographs of their heroes. Alden and other MMA Elite representatives expertly worked the crowd, allowing fans to get their moment with each fighter, while at the same time moving them along so that others got their time as well.
It was obvious that the event was not a chore that MMA Elite set up as a publicity stunt, a necessarily evil to promote the brand. Instead, it was clear they were having just as much fun as the fans were. They joked with fans and fighters alike, helping to make the event as much fun as possible for all involved.
While it is great for the folks at MMA Elite to interact on a personal level with customers, a practice that can lead to long term, fierce loyalty, the truth is that the faces of a company will ultimately reach more people. MMA Elite sponsors some of the biggest names in the sport, such as those previously mentioned. It was clear from that weekend of signings that the fighters they sponsor have a great sense of loyalty to Alden and his brand. From King Mo arriving with a nasty staph infection, to Mo and Rampage agreeing to put their differences aside and sitting just feet apart to sign autographs, it seemed like MMA Elite was more like a family than just a group of mercenaries out to make a dollar off of the fans.
It's easy to promote fighters during the good times. But things aren't always good, and it's the true measure of a company how they stand behind their fighters when the chips are down. We recently found out what kind of company MMA Elite was when their fighter, King Mo Lawal was released from his Zuffa contract following an ill fated tweet Mo made after his release.
Mo Lawal has not had a great year. Chronic knee problems and a failed post fight drug test following his most recent victory had really taken their toll on the charismatic fighter. To make things worse, a horrendous staph infection soon followed that threatened to take his leg, and possibly his life. It seemed things could not be worse. They could be.
Mo came to Las Vegas to give his side of the failed test. He explained that although the drugs were in his system, they came from a supplement Mo had purchased that was legal at the time. During the questioning, a female member of the NSAC spoke in a very condescending manner to Lawal. Mo thought her approach was degrading and possibly racist in nature. I was in attendance and could certainly see how he might think that.
Lawal was given the harshest of punishments and tweeted about his feelings towards the questioning, using a derogatory name for the female commissioner. Although clearly not a great decision, Mo has gone through a lot recently. It can't be condoned, but I can clearly see where all the pent up emotion Mo has been feeling came out in a single tweet.
The reaction from Zuffa was quick and harsh. King Mo was released from his contract. It was expected that MMA Elite would quickly follow suit as Mo's contract with them was set to expire. Yet another catastrophe for Lawal as things continued to snowball for one of the greatest fighters in the world. The monthly check from MMA Elite was something counted on by Mo to help him with day to day expenses, something relied on even more heavily now that he lost almost $40,000 from the ruling and his medical bills are sky high from his injured knee.
But finally, at last, something went right for Mo. It was rather ironic that the good news was delivered via Twitter. But there it was for all to see as Alden Halpern sent out the message "so officially..MMA ELITE has made the decision to stand with King MO."
Reading those words I got a huge smile on my face. Then and there I knew that MMA Elite was the real deal, a company that was about more than money. It would have been easy to discard Mo, a fighter going through tough times. But they decided to stand by their fighter and ride things out until they ultimately improve. Halpern made it clear in following tweets that he did not endorse Mo's comments, but that they would stand by Lawal nonetheless.
Some may question the move, but this act of loyalty towards one of their fighters has earned MMA Elite my loyalty. If I personally owned a TapouT or Affliction shirt, I would throw it in the trash. MMA Elite is the only brand I will ever endorse.
Fans of mma are much like NASCAR fans in that they are incredibly loyal to sponsors. For those looking to adopt a clothing brand, it should be clear that these guys are the company to go with. Every decision they make is done with the fan and fighter in mind. For that I applaud them.
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