After graduating from the BA (Hons) Football Business & Marketing programme last year, UCFB graduate George Parr took the initiative to set up his own athlete branding agency Signature Sports Marketing. The company, which specialises in working with mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, has just added UFC fighter Nathaniel ‘The Prospect’ Wood, a former bantamweight champion, to their roster. Here, George tells us why he founded the agency and how he plans to work with athletes going forward…

Tell us about Signature Sports Marketing and what you do…

Signature is my very own agency which specialises in building the personal brands of athletes, in particular professional mixed martial arts fighters. I consult with fighters, build a brand strategy with them and teach them how they can execute it. Then I can reach out to brands with who the athlete wants to partner and build a long-term relationship between the athlete and the brand, which allows the brand to reach the fighter’s audience.

What inspired you to set up your own athlete branding agency?

I’ve been involved in MMA for over six years, so I’ve seen first-hand how tough it is for up-and-coming fighters to make a sustainable living from the sport early in their careers. For a lot of these guys it's important to monetise their image as effectively as possible and start building an audience; with that they’ll receive healthier incomes in and out of the cage. 

Even with the fighters who are at the top of the sport, the sponsorship and partnership market for them hasn’t matured yet. Most marketing activations with MMA fighters consist of some paid social media posts with a supplement brand – it has the potential to be so much more than that and eventually it will be. I want to be the catalyst in making that change to help these fighters set themselves up for the long-term, so that was the main driving force in starting the business.

Tell us about how your signing of Nathaniel Wood came about…

I host my own podcast on YouTube and take its micro-content for my Instagram. The aim is to consistently provide value to athletes looking to build a personal brand, and luckily Nathaniel came across my content and he started following me on Instagram. It was pretty surreal because I’ve watched him fight since his early days on Cage Warriors and have watched his rise through the UFC so far, and he was definitely someone I had in mind when I first had the business idea. So we spoke in some detail about how I could help and he was keen to get started with me. That gave me huge confidence that I was solving a problem that MMA fighters in particular are faced with. It was also incredibly humbling that an athlete of his calibre put his faith in me. Ultimately, I'm a 21-year-old who still has a lot to learn, so the support of Nathaniel has given me more confidence and desire to succeed.

How do you plan to work with Nathaniel on improving his personal brand?

I can’t say too specifically what we have planned, but I feel Nathaniel has the potential to capture an audience far larger than what he has currently, especially being one of the few English fighters in the UFC. So at the moment the focus is on getting the basics of social media on point, which are capitalising on organic reach, engaging with his audience, and recycling content between platforms.

What do you think athletes can gain from building a personal brand?

The most obvious one is endorsement deals. If an athlete can build a deeply engaged audience and build a clear, definitive brand off the back of that then there will be brands in a range of industries wanting to partner. A lot of athletes don’t realise it can go beyond just promoting brands. Athletes are more able than ever to monetise their audiences independently, with merchandise, business investments, and now also with the rise of content subscription services. MMA is also a lot different to other sports in the sense that fighters with large, invested audiences might jump the queue for the top spots on fight cards, and have shorter routes to title fights – so will have more leverage to negotiate better pay on their employment contracts with promoters. 

How did your BA (Hons) Football Business & Marketing degree help prepare you to set up your own agency?

I think the Employability & Enrichment sessions are incredibly important to get a good grasp of the practicalities and nuances of the different facets of the sports industry. The curtain is really pulled back on how things work behind-the-scenes, and I definitely learnt a lot which I couldn’t have learnt elsewhere. Obviously, the network UCFB provided me with is superior to what any other institution could provide. And most importantly, learning marketing in a sports context gives you a real appreciation for how different the sports ecosystem is from any other industry in the world. 

Why did you choose to study at both campuses?

I had the pleasure of studying at both campuses. I started with Wembley, which I loved as a campus but decided to relocate because at the time my primary ambition was to compete professionally in mixed martial arts upon graduation. I never really found a team that I settled with, so decided to move to Manchester in search of better opportunities to train there. I absolutely loved my time at both, and it gave me the opportunity to network with a wider range of professionals and meet more of my fellow students.

Do you have any advice for prospective students looking to study at UCFB?

Firstly, your time at UCFB will fly by. It's the most unique, special, opportunity you’ll ever have. Make sure you fully grasp every chance to learn; from good attendance in lectures, to attending every Employability & Enrichment session, it will add up more than you could anticipate and you'll definitely regret it if you don't.

Click here to read about athletes that have transcended their sport through their personal brand.