BANGKOK // The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is set to make history on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
It will be the first time that a mixed martial arts (MMA) event has ever been held at the brand new T-Mobile Arena, and several local box office records look set to be broken.
The T-Mobile Arena was constructed at a cost of US$375 million and seats for UFC 200 are priced between $625 and $12,000. As a result, ticket sales are expected to surpass the $10m Las Vegas record set by UFC 194 at the nearby MGM Grand Garden Arena in December.
A match between Mexican professional boxer Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and British professional boxer Amir Khan at the T-Mobile Arena in May sold 13,702 tickets and generated $7.41m at the box office. UFC 200 should be a significantly bigger draw and the ticket revenue could conceivably be the highest ever, surpassing the $12m record set by UFC 129 in Toronto in 2011.
The UFC is owned by Zuffa, with the Flash Entertainment Group in Abu Dhabi owning a 10 per cent stake. In 2010, there was a UFC event at an especially constructed outdoor arena on Yas Island, and four years later the promotion put on a fight card at the du Arena.
Last year, the UFC’s revenue passed the $600m mark for the first time, according to one of its major shareholders, Lorenzo Ferttita (being a privately owned company, the UFC does not disclose its accounts). An apparel deal with Reebok is worth about $11.6m a year, while a broadcast deal with Fox reportedly brings in $90m annually.
However, the single biggest source of revenue is pay per view (PPV), with consumers in North America paying $49.99 to $59.99 per household for the rights to watch certain live events in the privacy of their homes. Last year was particularly lucrative, with UFC 193 generating 1.1 million in PPV sales, UFC 189 was subscribed to by 1 million households and UFC 194 topping 1.2 million PPVs.
The most successful PPV in the promotion’s history was UFC 100 in 2009, which was purchased by 1.6 million households, generating an estimated $75m in revenue. Under normal circumstances matchmakers would be looking to put the biggest stars in the sport on the historically significant UFC 200 card, but that simply will not be possible.
“I think UFC 200 will [achieve] somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1.2 to 1.5 million [PPV] buys,” said Greg Savage of Sherdog, a major MMA news website.
Conor McGregor is the most marketable MMA star in the modern era and the last three shows he has headlined have all generated at least a million in PPV sales. Unfortunately, he was unable to reach a compromise with the UFC after a well publicised disagreement over the extent of his media commitments. As a consequence, the Irishman will not be fighting on this card.
Neither will Ronda Rousey, the popular female fighter who single-handedly persuaded the UFC to start allowing women to compete in its famous Octagon. She’s currently taking time off after suffering a stunning loss in Sydney last year, the first defeat of her MMA career.
However, there are two title fights and the UFC hopes that professional wrestler Brock Lesnar’s unexpected return will compensate for the absence of Rousey and McGregor. Eight years ago, Lesnar took the sport by storm after arriving in MMA as a well established star from the world of pro wrestling, a highly successful but blatantly scripted form of fighting entertainment.
Lesnar headlined five different PPV cards between 2008 and 2011, including the record breaking UFC 100 event. Between them they generated just over 4.4 million buys, an average of 882,000 per show. At the time this established the 6 foot and 3 inches tall American, who weighs 120 kilograms, as the most marketable fighter in MMA history.
In total, Lesnar fought six times for the UFC, headlining the most successful event in the promotion’s history and establishing himself as the PPV king. It was a major disappointment to MMA fans when he retired in 2012 citing serious health issues, but in the past couple of years two serious contenders for his crown have emerged.
McGregor has well and truly mastered the art of self-promotion and is adamant that he has established himself as the biggest PPV star the sport has ever seen. The numbers support this, because the three PPV cards the Irishman has headlined have generated more than 3.5 million buys between them – an average of 1.17 million purchases per event.
By contrast, the five PPV cards headlined by Rousey have generated a total of 3.39 million buys, averaging 678,000 per event. However, two of them have taken place outside of the UFC’s traditional stronghold of North America, and her last fight was bought by 1.1 million households, an amazing statistic considering that the show itself was in Australia.
Jonathan Snowden is the senior combat sports writer at Bleacher Report and the author of several books about MMA. He doesn’t expect this weekend’s event to be quite as successful as the record-breaking UFC 100 card for several reasons.
“One hundred shows removed from their most legendary show it doesn’t seem likely that UFC will be able to match past successes with the mega event this weekend. Everything fell into place perfectly at UFC 100. Both Brock Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre were at the apex of their powers, both in the cage and at the box office. That’s not the case for UFC 200,” he said.
While the stars aligned to make UFC 100 the most successful PPV event in MMA history, Snowden says the matchmakers simply ran out of luck this time around.
“This time out, both of UFC’s top stars, Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, are unavailable. Even if they had been ready to compete, both are coming off embarrassing losses. Everything was building to this but not even the smartest matchmakers can control what happens when the bell rings.”
That leaves Lesnar as the main selling point, but Snowden feels he has lost a little of his allure after so many years away from the sport,
“Losing Rousey and McGregor forced UFC’s hand. A little desperate, they went back to the star who helped build their empire. But this isn’t the old Brock Lesnar. The version that will enter the cage on Saturday in Vegas sees 40 creeping up in his rear-view mirror and hasn’t fought a competitive bout in years.”
The two biggest stars in modern MMA might be notable by their absence this weekend, but the UFC 200 card does have plenty of big names. Reigning light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier will take on former middleweight champion Anderson Silva in a matchup which was put together at the last minute after Cormier’s original opponent, Jon Jones, failed a drug test..
UFC 200 is likely to break local box office records in terms of actual attendance and will be a lucrative event. But the PPV numbers aren’t expected to pass the1.6 million mark, meaning that the record set by UFC 100 in 2009 is likely to stand for years to come.
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