TicketManager | Will Kudo’s Bets on UFC, Other Sports Deals Pay Off for Upstart Popcorn Brand?

It’s highly unusual, if not completely unprecedented, for a 23-month-old start-up to announce a reported seven-figure, multi-year, multi-country partnership with a major sports property, but that is what snack manufacturer Kudo has done in extending a UFC sponsorship it began last June.

As a company that appears to be putting the vast majority of its marketing investment into sports partnerships—it also has collegiate athletic agreements with LSU and USC, a sponsorship of the Power Slap slap-fighting circuit, and pro athlete ambassadors—the maker of a line of protein-infused bagged popcorn should make for a fascinating case study of the feasibility of building a CPG brand and business through sports marketing.

Founded in February 2022, Kudo signed with Power Slap in January 2023 to become official popcorn partner of the promotion’s inaugural year, as well as a sponsor of the first season of Power Slap: Road to the Title, a reality series that aired on TBS last winter and spring. Power Slap is owned by UFC CEO Dana White.

In June, Kudo announced it was becoming an official partner of UFC. The company’s press release stated that the U.S.-only rights package “entails a dynamic fusion of brand integration and innovative marketing initiatives, spanning across select UFC Pay-Per-View and UFC Fight Nights, as well as UFC Fan Experience events, and a wide array of social media platforms.”

Seven months later, the partners announced an expansion of the agreement that makes Kudo the official global popcorn of the UFC and allows it to reach “more than 700 million fans in 170 countries, as well as an estimated 900 million TV households that receive UFC’s broadcasts. In addition, the agreement provides for an annual Brand Ambassador fund that will bring the partnership to life through appearances, content, and creative campaigns with UFC athletes,” according to the latest news release.

Kudo founder Ryan Lewis is banking on the power of sports to establish his brand in a fast-growing and competitive category that includes much larger competitors with bigger budgets to spend on media advertising and other forms of promotion. He sees customized UFC packaging and point of purchase retail displays propelling Kudo into more distribution channels and building greater consumer awareness, trial and loyalty. Will the strategy work? Only time will tell.

It should be noted that UFC and the brand’s other property partners also appear to be rolling the dice here. Without being privy to the financial terms of each deal, it’s safe to say there is always some risk when contracting with a start-up on a significant expenditure of funds.

In addition to its MMA and college partnerships, Kudo has five “Kudo Legends” serving as athlete brand ambassadors. They are former NBA players Gary Payton, Fred Brown and Jason Terry, along with former NFL running back Corey Dillon and current WNBA Las Vegas Aces player Chelsea Gray.