If you train, you’re probably aware that Metamoris 5 is this Saturday. The high-profile submission-only superfight event is something that I always look forward to. I’ve bought every stream.
But then, I’m obsessed with and fascinated by jiu-jitsu. I watch an insane amount of matches and instructional videos: I’m always going to purchase these events. In order for Metamoris to be financially viable over the long term, it has to expand its audience beyond people like me.
This is a classic marketing challenge, and I’m sensitive to it. I’m glad Metamoris exists to deliver amazing matches, and I want it to succeed. Which is why it was so heartening to see the organization seize a key moment to engage a broad base of fans this week … and so disappointing to watch the group undo the good work at the last minute, turning what could have been a bunch of goodwill into some hard feelings.
The story starts this past week, when Kevin Casey sadly had to undergo surgery and pull out of his match with Vinny Magalhaes. As anyone who has been around combat sports knows, injuries are a fact of life and can play hell with a card at the last minute — in fact, Casey himself only got onto the last Metamoris card after Magalhaes got staph.
The good news: Metamoris moved swiftly to fill the slot in a creative way that got their fans involved. They solicited applicants for the spot against Vinny on their Facebook page, offering a $10,000 prize for someone who could beat him.
People got excited: tons of black belts would love the opportunity to roll against a world-class guy like Vinny on the big stage. I nominated my instructor and sent the announcement to other black belts who also applied. And I wasn’t alone: suddenly there was a buzz, and Metamoris was inundated with outstanding jiu-jitsu people lobbying for the spot.
It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. It was the best of times because Metamoris rallied fans to help them select from among 10 finalists, and people really got into it.
It was the worst of times because this was where Metamoris made a huge, critical blunder. They posted 10 entries to Facebook, one for each of the finalists, and put this notation in every one of them:
We will make our final selections based mainly on the support of our audience. The only way your “support” will be measured is by sharing, liking and commenting on the post of the athlete you support most, here on our Facebook page.
This is exactly what I would have advised them to do, frankly: this way, people are motivated to help spread the word. That means a tremendous amount of free advertising, generated by an energized fan base that wants to support their instructor, their training partner, their teammate or their friend.
And that’s how you reach casual fans. That’s how you get beyond the core market of obsessive fans like me: you encourage us to like and share the post with the implicit contract that, if we build enough support for you, we’ll get to see the guy we want on Metamoris. Everybody wins!
Unless, of course, the fans give you a different result than the one you want, and you decide to pick someone else.
This is one of the finalists, Jeremy Arel. Arel is a Gordo black belt who runs Great Grappling and has a popular YouTube channel. (To be clear: although Jeremy is a Carolina guy, I did not vote for him. I’d have been happy to see Jeremy get the slot, too, but I voted for Super Dave Zennario.)
Let me be clear about one thing: among the 10 finalists, there were varying levels of qualifications — but I think most viewers would have been happy with any of the finalists. Especially this late in the game, finding a perfect match is difficult. Allowing the viewers to choose seemed like a great way to make lemons from lemonade, especially with options like James Puopolo, Bruno Bastos, Matt Arroyo and more.
After a day of voting, Metamoris announced the pick: Matheus Diniz, a Marcelo Garcia brown belt. No doubt he’s a beast and I’m looking forward to seeing him compete.
Here’s the problem, though. Jeremy Arel got by far the most votes, and generated about three times the amount of online support as Diniz.
People who supported Arel are understandably very upset, and the situation has generated a firestorm of comments on the Metamoris Facebook. What started as a great, feel-good underdog story turned into hard feelings in a hurry.
Now, I’m not going to say who I think Metamoris should have picked, or even who I think would make the best match. All I’m going to say is this: it’s a disastrous marketing error to tell people you’re going to operate by a set of rules, let them get excited, and then dash those expectations. In this situation, you can either pick who you want to be on the card and let people know, or you can let them vote and abide by the results of the vote (especially when the results are as clear as they were here).
What you can’t do is tell people that you’ll make the decision based “mainly” on votes, then let them spend hours working to advertise on your behalf for free — and then pull the rug out from under them.
This isn’t just about this Metamoris card: it’s about future events. I think having a “Rocky” match on each card, where fans vote for a relatively unknown black belt, could have had great potential. Let’s say the Metamoris folks had gone with Arel. Now, every average blue belt who is obsessed with jiu-jitsu — yes, I’m talking about myself, but every other guy out there like me as well — knows that we can get our instructors on Metamoris if we work hard enough.
Almost 4,000 people liked or shared Arel’s post in fewer than 24 hours. Imagine the reach of that effort. Imagine the goodwill following through would have created. Imagine the kind of effort guys like me would have put out lobbying for our people. Now, though? I’ll still buy the streams — I’m still addicted to jiu-jitsu, after all — but I’ll think twice before I share content like this again. I do enough marketing for my day job that I don’t need to do it for free if my people won’t get anything out of it.
Some people might say that they wouldn’t have any interest in having an Internet poll make matches. They might just want to see the best competitor take his shot against Vinny, and that’s totally fair.
My point is simply this: if you raise expectations among your fans, you have to meet or exceed those expectations. Either let the people vote and give them what they want, or just pick the guy you think is best and let the chips fall where they may.
I hope Diniz puts on a tremendous performance on Saturday and for many Metamoris events to come. But while I watch that match with a sense of excitement, in the back of my mind I’ll be thinking about the thousands of people who are watching with a bad taste in their mouths — or maybe not watching at all.