Member Experience

How to Start an MMA Gym

MMA has diehard fans and very particular athletes, so how can you make an MMA gym that appeals to them? We’ll explain it right here.

Sam Karoll
July 29, 2022
TLDR;
MMA has diehard fans and very particular athletes, so how can you make an MMA gym that appeals to them? We’ll explain it right here.

Mixed martial arts has a dedicated and hardcore following. As a gym owner, you absolutely have to meet their needs and continuously challenge your athletes.

Starting an MMA gym means scaling up their knowledge and experience, and giving your athletes a place to train consistently while retaining them as clients.

It’s a tricky and slippery slope, but it’s not impossible. We’re going to talk about everything you need to start an MMA gym, right from the ground up.

We’ll go over the industry, the demographics you should be marketing to, and help you develop a successful MMA gym strategy today.

Industry Overview

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest-growing sports and activities across the world.

In several countries, it’s quickly growing to be the number one exercise and sport, and for good reason.

But what’s so alluring about it, and what can the industry teach us? This industry focuses on progress, honor, and skill development.

What does that mean? Let’s break it down.

  • Progress: Athletes are constantly trying to improve, to become half a percent better than they were the previous week. As we’ll discuss in a moment, progress spans across every part of MMA. It’s different than skill development, though; MMA is one of the best physical workouts you can do, so athletes will see improvements in their muscles, stance, and control, which are building blocks towards skill development.
  • Honor: In MMA, every athlete is putting in work, and people respect that. Even if you fight an opponent in a sparring match, you don’t hold a grudge or resentment for that person. You honor their fight, you honor their determination, and if you come out on top, you honor them by showing good sportsmanship. Honor respects the journey that every MMA athlete must embark on, and is a key component of the sport.
  • Skill Development: MMA athletes want to increase their endurance, their form, and achieve more control. Mixed martial arts isn’t just about being the strongest guy in the room. It’s far from that. Can you lead a gym that holds this as a core, and hire instructors who understand the other side of MMA that people can’t see from watching a training video?

Understanding why an athlete chooses to get into MMA in the first place is absolutely everything.

If you can’t understand why an athlete begins the journey, you can’t guide them through it, and they’ll fall off after they begin their membership.

Industry Trends

Mixed martial arts is a trend in its own right. In fact, it’s growing across the world at such a rapid pace that it doesn’t need to chase trends.

Think of MMA as a steadfast “trend” that isn’t going anywhere. It’s called mixed martial arts, and incorporates a ton of other martial arts together (as you may have guessed), which is a brilliant bit of marketing.

If someone is interested in a martial art, they’re already a prime customer for an MMA school.

Why is that? Because they can learn multiple martial arts at the same time with an MMA class and gym.

The entire concept is appealing, so why wouldn’t you transition to it? MMA practically markets itself for you, and unlike CrossFit, it’s not a brand name that you have to worry about trademarking—you can just run with it.

But will MMA be on top forever? Just like other trends that come and go, it won’t be the most-talked about thing in the fitness world forever. But that doesn’t mean that it’s just going to fade into the background. Just like with CrossFit, the practice will outlive the trend: MMA is here to stay.

Demographics

The demographic for MMA is a wide crowd, and it’s completely different from the populus that already attends a fitness gym (even one that holds classes in a similar field).

The environment is entirely different, and the atmosphere is more intense than a fitness gym.

Your main targeted demographic should be men between age 18 to 35 with a strong root in physical fitness. Your main demographic is already somewhat fit, and are most likely single unmarried individuals.

While women are included in the demographic, they make up around 35% of the total number. Not a bad number, but not your primary target.

It’s important to note that a large percentage of martial arts clients in general are under the age of 17, so they rely on a parent or guardian for funding. They’re not the ones making the financial decisions even though they are the affected demographic.

Certain data suggests that MMA is one of the most engaging martial arts in the world, with most of the participants in the sport partaking in classes of some sort.

MMA appears to be growing at a slow rate right now, but that being said, it’s only been on the incline for some time now.

Cost Breakdown

Now it’s time to talk about all the equipment, certification, and any affiliation that you may need.

We’re going to talk about numbers and try to summarize everything you’ll need, so you can get a full scope of what it takes to run an MMA gym. Buckle up and let’s go.

Equipment

This is the basic equipment you’ll need. You will find that as you progress in your gym, you’ll want some other equipment or you may want to change certain equipment.

That’s normal, but for now, let’s set up a quality MMA gym.

  • Punching Bags and Stands: Punching bags and heavy bags are pretty standard in MMA gyms. Look up any MMA training video, and chances are that the subject of the video is going hardcore on a punching bag. These are crucial for MMA athletes because they best simulate the response that the human body would have from being hit. This also gives kinetic feedback and helps your fighters develop their critical muscles that they'll actually use while sparring. GOod punching bags are around $400 to $600 depending on the quality, size, and weight. Stands aren’t hyper expensive and only run you about $30 to $150 depending on whether they’re wall-mounted or floor-mounted.
  • Punching Mitts and Training Suits: These suits can be worn by instructors. They’re essentially giant padded suits that cover the shins and torso, that way your athletes can train on someone with reaction time and proper movement speed. It’s a step-up from punching bags, and your instructors will want these to better train their students. Trainer suits can be around $250 or more, while punching mitts range about 25 to $40. Keep in mind that these items, while they’re meant to be used and abused, will wear down faster than a lot of the other things in your gym. You want to account for that ahead of time and factor in replacement costs down the line.
  • Battle Ropes and Jump Ropes: These are where CrossFit and MMA can tilt a hat to one another. Battle ropes help build core muscles, obliques, and other muscle groups that your fighters will use while they’re in the throes of sparring or training. Battle ropes are super cheap, so you’ll only need to account for $30 to $50 for thinner, lighter ones, although some can range in the $!50 price points depending on what you want in your gym. Jump ropes are the best way to burn cardio and build endurance and don’t cost more than about $10 to $35 depending on the quality and weight of the rope.
  • Dummies: This is something else that your instructors will most likely want to have handy when they train their students. While these might not be as useful to advanced students, they will come in handy for beginners and can help your instructors show how to perform certain moves without including a student. Mid-range dummies will cost around $45 up to $110, but these change and the quality will differ. Keep in mind that these will undergo some heavy stress.
  • Foam Targets: These can be placed around the gym to emulate scenarios that your athletes could find themselves in. They’re typical $40 to $70 per foam target, and offer the same resistance that punching mitts do. If you’re setting up a cage, which we’ll talk about in a minute, having targets for your athletes to use as they see fit will go a long way. You only want to get exactly what you need in this space.
  • MMA Cage: This is the big price drop. It can be overlooked and you can make a DIY “cage”, but if you buy a done-for-you one, it’s going to range you in the high thousands. For a 16’ width cage, they’re around $5,500 in total. The next step up is a 24’ width cage, and those are around $9,000 or higher. Having a full-scale cage can really enhance the experience for MMA athletes, and make your gym more alluring, especially if your gym patrons are bringing friends and/or family that could convert into customers. They have to see that you’re a step above the rest.

Certification

There are two parts of certification. One, you can become certified to teach MMA through various programs, such as the American Sports & Fitness Association method.

This ensures that people will take your MMA classes seriously. You want to personally receive this certification. If you hire a trainer that has it, and they leave as the only certification holder in the building, that’s bad for business.

Second, we can look at certification to become a proper MMA gym in the form of insurance. You should be insured for liability and to cover expenses if anyone in your gym needs it.

Get a responsible amount of coverage that will ensure one minor issue won’t sink your business or sully the good name you’re trying to build. Insurance can cost anywhere from $800 to $2,000 per year.

Affiliation

Unlike CrossFit, MMA is a style of training, not a brand name.

You don’t have to be affiliated with some MMA institution in order to teach mixed martial arts. However, we can look at affiliation as a way to seed trust in potential clients.

You can become affiliated with MMA brands, such as REvgear, Hayabusa, and Everlast, and depending on their stipulations you can request to mention their brand name and logo in your marketing material.

This builds trust with MMA athletes who may want to train at your gym. Affiliate is usually a way to actually diversify your revenue stream in this case since you don’t have to hold an MMA affiliate agreement on an annual basis or anything like that.

Customer Service

Customer service isn’t talked about enough with any type of gym ownership. Your MMA gym isn’t just going to be instructors teaching classes for 100% of the time it’s open.

Even if it was, your athletes are going to want the option to come and go as they please throughout the day so that they can use the equipment, train alone, and build their fitness goals.

You don’t need a lot of customer service staff, but the ones you do hire are going to be the face of your business when you’re not around. You can’t skip around on this.

You should pay them above minimum wage, and take the time to integrate them into your brand properly. Even if training costs increase, the long-term damage of having bad customer service representatives will outweigh the money saved in the short-term.

Ask your customer service reps what they want to be paid, and what they want in a productive and positive setting. Be empathetic to their needs and you can expect to see amazing performance as a result.

Gym Software

So you’re paying more for customer service reps than the gym down the street, and you want to save some money. That’s where software comes into play. It’s not just about collecting payments and helping with membership sign-ups.

With PushPress, our pricing is laid out plainly. We help you integrate Google analytics, Facebook marketing, member profits, staff profiles, member profiles, and so much more, all in one space.

You automate the difficulty of a lot of tasks, giving you the most valuable commodity of all: time. You can focus on what’s important with the right gym software.

Cost of MMA Coaches

On average, MMA instructors make around $50,100 per year according to ZipRecruiter. On Salary.com, the median is $37,600.

Indeed lists the median MMA coach salary at $45,700 per year, while Glassdoor says it’s actually around $59,500 per year.

So, who’s right? They’re some of the only sources that actually show what MMA instructors make. When you interview an instructor, you want to make sure there’s a range in mind hat you’re comfortable hiring them at.

As a rule of thumb, nobody is happy at the bottom end of their pay scale, and it’s going to reflect in your gym. Your instructors should be able to use this as their sole income, and dedicate their time to your gym without anything else getting in the way.

To ask that of them, they need to be paid properly. You’ll have to figure out based on your class structure and pricing how long it will take in a given calendar year to recoup the costs, but it’s one that you can’t skip. Otherwise, you don’t have a product to sell.

Additional and Miscellaneous Costs

There’s the building you rent, of course, which can range from $8.50 upwards of $22 per square foot per year.

Eating the cost of renting a gym, hiring instructors, and building an impressive set of equipment is difficult.

But we’re not done yet. You still need janitorial supplies to keep machines, rings, and everything else clean of sweat (and potentially blood), expendable supplies like MMA tape, and sanitation equipment for any facilities you have on site.

This is all important, and the costs will vary depending on where you source it from, what you find that you need, and whether or not you have additional staff to help you out.

It’s difficult to break this cost down beyond searching for disinfectant wipes and tape ($4 and $10 respectively), so you will have to take some time to address these costs as you come across them.

Managing With PushPress

You have to take an entirely different approach to an MMA gym than you do with a traditional fitness gym.

It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. When you find out where you can save time, you know where you can spend it efficiently.

MMA gyms have dedicated athletes, so you deserve a dedicated software that understands the difficulties and pain points of running a gym.

Shave time off of your daily tasks, receive updated reports on your clients, income, and everything in between to help you run your MMA gym effectively and profitably.

Sam Karoll

Sam is our Community Manager for PushPress. He also owns and operates Xplore Nutrition, a personalized nutrition coaching service designed "for your lifestyle and goals by a Coach who's always available."

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