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Event Development Is The Hub Of The Wheel For The UFC: Olivia Judkowitz

Olivia Judkowitz | Director of Event Development | Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

What sets the UFC apart from the other sports organizations I’ve worked for is the exponential growth we’ve experienced

Olivia Judkowitz

Director of Event Development

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

× The interview with Olivia Judkowitz was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Director of Event Development of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

The Event Development department essentially acts as the hub of the wheel for the company, because we are responsible for establishing our annual event calendar and TV programming schedule. I manage our global schedule of 40+ events, which includes booking, routing, and negotiating the venue agreements. I am the main point of contact between all the arenas we work with, so I also handle the venue relations side of things.

UFC Event MAnagement

Once I confirm the venue agreement, I connect the various internal groups (PR, Event Marketing, Ticketing, Production, etc.) to start the planning process and make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

I also work closely with our TV partner, ESPN, on programming dates for our events, and what platforms they will air on.

In addition to my event scheduling duties, I oversee all of our experiential operations – UFC Fan Experience, an immersive and engaging series of touchpoints between our fans and the brand at our live events, and International Fight Week, our annual (Super Bowl type) event that includes concerts, athlete meet & greets parties, and Hall of Fame induction ceremony, culminating with a UFC Pay-Per-View event.

Most recently, I took on the booking and venue management for UFC APEX, our brand new, state of the art production facility.

Being with the company for eight years now, you learn there’s no “typical day” at UFC, and you wear many hats; there are new challenges to tackle or projects to take on. One of the things that separate us from the other major pro sports organizations is that we do not have an off-season. We are full steam ahead all year round, so there’s never a dull moment!

Talk about the transition from Event Marketing Manager to Director of Event Development at UFC.

I was promoted to my current position at the beginning of 2019. When I was the Event Marketing Manager, which is under the Event Development umbrella, I focused more on how to increase ticket revenue and market awareness. This also included in-depth market research and analysis of data to help us choose the markets we bring live events to.

I would also advance the markets with our Director of Event Marketing, where we would go into the market a few months in advance to meet with the arena, partners, and local media outlets (radio, TV, publications), to help us put together a go-to-market campaign for the ticket on-sale. All of this experience helped me build a strong understanding of what goes into the planning of our events and really prepared me for the role I am in today.

How do you continue to embrace and attract the millennial audience at UFC?

We’re always looking to be innovative and cutting edge.

Our social media presence is a key factor in embracing millennial fans; we put fan engagement at the forefront of our social strategy. In recent years, we’ve really leaned into creating more unique and memorable onsite experiences.

At our events, we create innovative and accessible activations to attract a younger, digital-savvy audience.

For example, fans can experience what it’s like to be a fighter by creating a GIF of their own walkouts to the UFC Octagon, or an “instagrammable” moment with the replica UFC championship belt.

What would you say are the top 3-5 biggest moments or accomplishments in your sport management career? Please explain each choice.

  1. Taking on a leadership role for International Fight Week, growing from assisting with the inaugural event into the operational lead for the past three years.
  2. Developing the Go-To Market plan for our first event in NYC after the sport was finally legalized in the state of New York in 2016. We created a 360-degree marketing campaign called “Can’t Wait” to announce our arrival. It was one of our most successful live events to date!
  3. Creating a group ticket sales program from the ground up, generating a new revenue stream for the company.
  4. UFC signing a seven-year TV deal with the worldwide leaders in sports, ESPN. It was a monumental moment for our organization, and I got to assist with the planning for the launch of the partnership surrounding our first event ever on the network.

I’d imagine working in UFC is a bit different than the other organizations you've worked/volunteered/interned for – how does it differ from those other organizations, and were you interested in the sport right away?

What sets the UFC apart from the other sports organizations I’ve worked for is the exponential growth we’ve experienced. In just a short few years, we’ve really blown up. I think the reason for that is the company’s desire to be innovative. We have a very collaborative, non-corporate environment. The mentality of the organization is very forward-thinking, and there’s a willingness to try new things.

Before I started at UFC, I was just a casual fan of the sport. I would only watch the big PPV events with a group of friends at a sports bar, and only knew a handful of the star athletes like Georges St-Pierre and Chuck Liddell. It wasn’t until I started working for UFC where I became more educated on the sport and grew a newfound respect for the level of talent that competes inside the Octagon.

Take us through the realization that you wanted to apply your degree to the sport industry. Many of our readers will benefit from hearing you speak to how you connected Tourism Development and Management to the sport industry.

I was one of those rare college students who knew exactly what I wanted to do for a living, which was to work in the sports and live events industry.

When I was researching degree programs, I found that Tourism Development and Management included coursework in sports management, special events planning, convention sales & management, and communications. I also found it beneficial to learn about the tourism industry, as it complements the work I do today. I knew it was a perfect fit.

Your volunteer experience is vast and the fact that you balanced them with school is impressive! How was it that you were able to find those experiences and how did they shape you for your roles with UFC.

Volunteer work was highly encouraged in my degree program; so much so, they made a certain amount of hours mandatory to earn a degree. I was eager to start, so I applied to every program that sparked my interest. Luckily, my school was located in Downtown Phoenix, so I lived in walking distance to the Phoenix Suns arena and Diamondbacks stadium.

I got my first volunteer position with the Phoenix Suns by cold calling and asking them if there was any way I could help. It happened to be the year Phoenix hosted the NBA All-Star Game (2009), so the arena was in need of volunteers to assist with promotions. They brought me on as a member of their Volunteer Committee, and the rest is history!

Having a clear vision of what I wanted to do has had a strong impact on my career. I’ve never been afraid to reach out, network, and volunteer wherever I could in order to gain experience and build strong relationships in the field of work I am passionate about.

Marilyn Napoli Marilyn's Final Thoughts

From fan to full time, Olivia Judkowitz acts as the “hub of the wheel” for the UFC. Her role as Director of Event Development requires her to manage all events on a wide range and scale all throughout the year (UFC does not have an offseason). Exciting and lively, Olivia is responsible for the planning and implementation of all major events that fans tune in to see such as the big PPV events. Olivia Judkowitz’s transition from marketing to events has surely be paramount to her success in connecting millennial fans to the brand. After all, Olivia understands the importance of fan engagement in creating unique and memorable onsite experiences.

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