MMA has become very popular in recent years due to the increased popularity of UFC and Bellator. As a result, more and more people are taking interest in participating in the sport, either as a form of exercise or to eventually fight professionally. This increased interest is an opportunity to profit for those willing to put in the work of owning an MMA gym.
But keep in mind, owning an MMA gym is not easy and is a labor of love for most people. However, for the right person, it can be a very lucrative business. If you are interested, here is a comprehensive guide that shows you how to get started with starting your own MMA gym.
If you want to own an MMA gym, you should know some MMA. So that means if you are not already training, you should start training. Compete in some competitions. Get some accolades. The more accolades you have, the better off you will be when it comes time to recruit members.
In terms of striking, if you have a black belt in a traditional martial arts, that's a good start. But you should have years of kickboxing and boxing training in your arsenal. And at the very least you should have at least a couple of amateur fights under yourself. But to brand yourself as a "legitimate" MMA gym owner, you should definitely have a few pro fights.
In terms of grappling, having a black belt in Judo or Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) is great. But if you have an extensive wrestling background, that's even better. Many MMA gym lack the wrestling background to complement the BJJ. So what if you don't have a black belt? Well it's not necessarily the end of the world. There are people that have opened their own MMA gyms with blue, purple, or brown BJJ belts. But if you don't have a colored belt, you have no business teaching grappling. But if you don't have a colored belt, you can hire someone on a part-time basis to teach class.
Having said all that, having extensive MMA training is a good but not absolutely necessary. You can also go the "silent partner" route. In this route, you own a majority portion of the business but partner up with someone who has extensive MMA experience. But this route is not the best route as the margins on MMA gyms are not that huge unless you franchise or open up multiple locations.
So who do you want to cater your gym to? Do you want to cater to the casual 9-5 crowd that wants to get out a workout after work? If this is so, you can pitch your gym as a great way to get in a workout. Or do you want to cater to people who actually want to defend themselves? In that case, market your gym as a place to learn self-defense and martial arts. Or do you want to be a fight gym, known for training people to fight amateur and professional matches? In that case, you will need a lot of experience in the fight game. You will also need to have or build connections inside the fighting world.
Here's a thing I will have to say about having a gym exclusively catered to fighters though. If you do want a fight gym, make sure to be inviting to people who want to train casually also. Otherwise, you are pigeon-holing your gym and it won't last. You also need to make sure that your fighters don't intimidate or go too hard on the more causal members of your gym.
The location of the gym is going depend on the type of clientele you are looking for. If you are willing to pay more, you can get a spot in a busy city center. If you do that, you can charge higher prices and your clientele will be those who work nearby and just want to get in a good workout after work or during lunch. If you don't want to pay for a high lease, you can find a industrial or rural location in a smaller city. The clientele will be those that live nearby or are willing to drive a good 20-30 minutes to attend class. You won't be able to charge as much as you would in a city center. If you want a middle ground, you can find a small city and then try to get a gym in the downtown area. A small city would have 50,000 people or less.
As for the structure of your gym, you would obviously want a one-floor building. There are several reasons you do not want a multi-floor gym and they all revolve around safety precautions. As for the size of the gym, you should try to get a gym that is at least 2,500 to 3,000 square feet.
For the most part, MMA gyms are not franchised. However, there are several franchising options out there for potential gym owners. Gracie Barra, UFC Gym, Renzo Gracie, Art of Jiu Jitsu, etc. You will notice that most of the franchising options are jiu jitsu focused. Being in a jiu jitsu franchise does not mean you won't be allowed to have a striking program. In fact, most jiu jitsu affiliates have a striking program in their schools.
The website is going to be one of the most important factors in your gym's success. It's not a question of whether you need a website or not anymore, it's a question of how much you are willing to spend on it. Your website does not need to be updated regularly and does not need to be fancy. It just needs to show your schedule, your contact information, your bio, and maybe some pictures. So getting a website up and running can cost anywhere from $0 to $2,000, depending on who you hire. If you decide to do it yourself, it will cost nothing. If you decide to hire someone overseas through sites like Upwork, it will be around $300 to $500. If you hire a really good local freelance web developer, it will cost you $1000 to $2000. This is talking about a basic website, nothing fancy.
Once you decide on how you are going to get your website up, then the next step is to get a hosting provider and a domain name. If you are not really familiar with building websites and the technical aspects of maintaining one, I recommend getting your website from a big company that is really responsive to your questions. The company that I found to be the most responsive and helpful to my website troubles have been Namecheap. And although I haven't dealt with Bluehost nearly as much as I have with Namecheap, they are also very reliable when it come to technical or billing support.
With Namecheap, there is no option to pay monthly on their Shared plans. So you have to commit to a yearly plan. However, it is only $19 for the whole year which is very cheap. With Bluehost, you have the option to pay monthly so you are not locked in for the whole year. So after a couple of months, if you do not like what you have, you can cancel.
Marketing is one of those things I see many gym owners struggle with for whatever reason. But marketing is pretty important to the growth and success of your gym. The first step of marketing your gym is obviously having a website. The second step of marketing is having a Facebook Page. A Facebook page allows people on Facebook to mention your gym and to stay updated with your gym. So having a website and a Facebook page is a must. But here are other things you can do to market your gym.
Ask people to review your gym: If your members love your gym, ask them to review you on Facebook and Google. Personally, to me, Google reviews are much more important because it helps with your search engine rankings---meaning people will see your gym more often when people search Google for MMA gyms around your area. Also, people will see those reviews when they look your place up on Google.
Videos: I found videos, especially, tutorials, are a great way to get people in the door of your MMA gyms. Videos show the legitimacy of your gym and what kind of gym it is. It will also show off the personality of your gym and you. The videos should be uploaded on both Youtube and Facebook. The shareability of videos make it for a great way to get people to notice your gym.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimize your website so that it ranks higher in the Google search results. This is a topic that would take months to even start learning. But learning doesn't mean that it will be implemented (well). So if you are hell bent on learning it, you can. But you can also find some pretty good agencies to do your search engine optimization for you. Don't always go for the cheapest because they can do some shady stuff. Go for reputable agencies that have a long history of providing long-term results.
Online ads: The old adage goes "you gotta spend money to make money." Although not necessarily absolute truth anymore in today's business world, it does still hold a lot of weight. Online ads take some time to learn so if you are not familiar with it, you may have to hire an agency to do it for you.
Besides your website and your location, here are other things you will need to set up for your gym:
I have been to MMA gyms that still use pen/paper and archaic systems to keep track of billing and membership. Don't go that way; it's a huge headache and takes a lot of time. Instead, use billing software to automate your billing and enroll your members into recurring billing. For billing and membership software, Virtuagym, Zenplanner, and Mindbody are the most popular.
Mats are essential to an MMA gym. And you will find that mats are going to be one of your most expensive expenditures. You will probably need several types of mats for different types of activities. Look to spend at least a few thousand dollars just on mats. Here are typical estimates of the different types of mats:
The best place I found to get mats is Dollarmur.com. They are cheap, highly rated, and resilient.
Bags are also a necessity in your MMA gym. The most essential bags are Muay Thai bags. They are good for punching and kicking. They can range anywhere from $150-$250 for a filled bag, depending on the weight and brand. You can find some decent ones on Amazon. If you want to go the cheaper route, you can get an unfilled Muay Thai bag for anywhere from $80-$120 and then fill it up with sand yourself. But just know, that's a lot of sand and work to fill bags that weigh 100 to 150 pounds.
You will probably need bags of different weights to accommodate different people.
After taking care of Muay Thai bags, you can think about getting boxing bags, target bags, double-end bags, and speed bags. But the Muay Thai are the most necessary. All other bags are optional and can be bought as you grow.
Gloves are also essential to an MMA gym. You need gloves for yourself but you also need gloves for your potential members. A lot of times, new members will come in to check out your gym and will not have any equipment. That is when you need to have some on hand for when that time comes. You should get fairly cheap but sturdy ones, and of differing weights.
The gloves you buy should be in the $40 to $80 range. That is the price range you should aim for when starting out. They aren't expensive like the Cleto Reyes boxing gloves, but they are sturdy enough to last you a long time.
Shin guards are important if you plan to do any kickboxing at your gym at all. Shin-on-shin contact hurt so shin guards protect against injuries to the shin. Just like above, you should have these handy for when potential members come in to try your classes. You don't need as many shin guards as you do boxing gloves, but you should still get at least 4 pairs or so to start.
Head gear is necessary if you allow sparring in your gym. It will help protect your students from injury. Students who train regularly should have their own head gear but you should provide at least a few for potential students or when your existing students forget to bring them.
So the list above covers the many essentials you need for your MMA gym. I am sure there are some more things that you may end up buying but the list above will be 99% of the startup cost of getting your gym up and running. So now that you have a comprehensive guide to opening an MMA gym, I wish you the best of luck. Just remember, that to grow your business, the most important thing is to work on your business, not in your business.