GSP: UFC’s Midas brand

Georges St-Pierre has parlayed mixed martial arts fame into wider pop culture celeb brand status.

Georges St-Pierre has quickly become one of Canada’s most pre-eminent athletes. He’s been named Canadian athlete of the year by Rogers Sportsnet three years running, knocking the likes of hockey superstar Sidney Crosby off the podium. In this country, that’s saying something, especially considering the polarizing nature of mixed martial arts’ violence.
GSP’s management team, LB3i Sports in Montreal, is currently working with Sid Lee to make sure they fully understand St-Pierre’s brand and can maximize its value. Sid Lee has conducted a five-step brand equity audit resulting in the creation of new guidelines, a new look and an online strategy that GSP’s team will be rolling out in 2012, as well as a social media strategy it’s already put into effect.
“I cannot share the results, but we were in shock,” says Martin Gauthier, senior partner, VP interactive marketing, Sid Lee. “He compared very well with other fighters, but we were surprised with how well he compared with pop culture stars and other athletes. The brand is good and we can bring it to great. ”
GSP’s growing notoriety is inextricably linked to the intensifying popularity of the UFC in Canada, but GSP isn’t like the other fighters. People genuinely love the guy. Since his UFC debut in 2004 he’s tightened his chokehold on fight fandom, and has over two million Facebook fans. Being something of a fighting phenom helps. He currently holds the UFC welterweight championship, has successfully defended that title seven times, won nine fights in a row and is on a five-year winning streak.
“There’s always a spike in our pay-per-view numbers, our broadcast numbers when Georges is fighting,” says Tom Wright, director of operations, UFC Canada. He cites a 50% to 70% increase in PPV results on the eve of a GSP-headlined contest.
That’s why at UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto in April, GSP was the focal point of all promotions, which were developed for the event by Toronto-based Bensimon Byrne.
People also pay to sport brand GSP. Through, fans can purchase apparel, posters, calendars, gift cards and accessories. His visage also appears on shirts crafted by Affliction, which produces a new GSP-branded shirt for his walk out to the octagon for every UFC event.
His Midas touch has also endeared him to consumer brands that have made the groundbreaking move of signing him as their first MMA/UFC fighter. PepsiCo’s Gatorade began endorsing GSP in 2009, albeit with some initial trepidation based on the violent nature of MMA. They put GSP front and centre to promote the G-Series of sports drinks.
“Our goal is to find the athletes who represent Canada’s best on a global stage,” says Greg Lyons, VP of marketing, PepsiCo Beverages Canada. “Georges St-Pierre embodies the spirit of athleticism for Canada, from his gruelling training regimen to his championship fights.”
Most recently, GSP signed on
as a co-founder of Mission Skincare, a line designed and tested by elite athletes for people who live an
active lifestyle.
As for how GSP is received outside North America, Wright recounts a story of an appearance GSP made in the Philippines. Although UFC has never held an event there, Wright says about 100,000 people showed up.
For the UFC, he is the fighter that best embodies the values that are a part of the league’s brand DNA: authenticity, discipline, high-energy, accessibility and relevance.
“Both Georges’ brand and our own have been growing at remarkable rates over the last many years and it’s a reflection of those core values,” says Wright. “Our two brands are lockstep together, so we’re very mindful of that and we work very closely with his team.”
For team GSP, it’s his authenticity that really resonates with people.  “I’ve known Georges for many years and authenticity is the key,” says Rodolphe Beaulieu, partner, LB3i Sports.  “He hasn’t changed a bit from what he was and 10 years from now he will still be the same guy. For a brand to live you need consistency.”
And as for GSP himself, you likely won’t be surprised by what he has to say about the brand he’s built.
“What characterizes my brand [is that] I’m faithful to myself,” he says. “I don’t try to hide anything. I know I’m not a perfect human being, but I have a thing that I do well, I let the public see it and it’s no problem. I am like I am. What you see is what you get.”

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