It’s Official

Well, like the title says, it’s official. The UFC sold for a cool 4 Billion dollars. The success of the UFC has a price. In less than 16 years, the UFC has grown from a money-losing company in a widely reviled sport into a global entertainment property worth $4 billion. While the UFC and its new owners figure out the company’s next steps, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta are tapping out of mixed martial arts with a remarkable return on a $2 million investment. The UFC has been sold for approximately $4 billion to a group led by Hollywood entertainment conglomerate WME-IMG, both companies confirmed Monday.

The sale will spectacularly benefit the Fertitta brothers and UFC President Dana White, who first persuaded his wealthy high school buddies to buy the cage fighting promotion in 2001. White also owned 9% of the company, and he isn’t going anywhere though: He’ll remain the boss and public face of the UFC while keeping an ownership stake. “No other sport compares to UFC,” White said.

“Our goal has always been to put on the biggest and the best fights for our fans, and to make this the biggest sport in the world. I’m looking forward to working with WME-IMG to continue to take this sport to the next level.”~ Dana White

They were trying to by hush-hush in the negotiation process. Now it is public information. In their first public comments about the deal, White and the new owners have suggested little will change at first for the promotion. The UFC has a full slate of fights scheduled this year, all building toward its long-awaited debut at Madison Square Garden in November after New York legalized MMA earlier this year. Which is kind of a big deal if you follow the sport. New York is notorious in its statements and resistance to MMA.

On the bright side, the UFC has created super-star status for fighters. After helping Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz to straddle the line between sports and entertainment, the UFC now boasts a roster of elite athletes with mainstream fame, including Conor McGregor, Brock Lesnar, and Ronda Rousey (who is represented by WME by the way). It’s too soon to tell whether the deal will lead to more money for the UFC’s non-unionized athletes. The promotion regularly receives criticism from mid-level fighters for its pay scale, but its ability to control talent costs is a major factor in its profitability. Hopefully this company changes the pay grade for the mid level guys as they are risking as much as anyone else who steps in the cage. It is doubtful that much will change as long as Dana White is essentially calling the shots.

The UFC’s price tag has drawn crazy responses since it was first rumored earlier this year, but what is for sale is not just a promotion, but an entire sport, given the UFC’s omnipotence atop MMA.

Bellator and other competitors draw a fraction of the UFC’s revenue, attention, and some could argue talent. With more than 500 athletes under contract, the UFC stages roughly 40 events per year and is broadcast in more than 150 countries, reaching 1.1 billion television households. The UFC is frequently described as the world’s largest pay-per-view event provider, and it also has a prolific digital streaming service, UFC Fight Pass, that it describes as “Netflix for fight fans” and is a key component of potential growth. The Ultimate Fighter TV show and support now from ESPN, a huge brand itself, MMA is not going anywhere anytime soon.

I guess time will be the only determining factor in seeing if there will be significant changes. I know that there are things that need to change. One of the purest parts of the sport in the beginning is that is wasn’t about being a money machine. I think it is so commercial nowadays that even the hardcore underground fans can’t ignore it. Hopefully the fighters get more compensation and the quality of the fighers remains the same. Only time will tell…

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