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The Enterprise of MMA in 2023: UFC produced over $1 billion in income, PFL buys Bellator, fighters flip to OnlyFans

The global pandemic crushed a lot of businesses across the globe, but it’s safe to say the UFC is one of the biggest success stories to emerge from that disastrous time. While the pandemic prompted down years for just about everybody, the UFC still exploded in popularity over the past three years, securing bigger sponsorship

The Enterprise of MMA in 2023: UFC produced over $1 billion in income, PFL buys Bellator, fighters flip to OnlyFans

The worldwide pandemic crushed a number of companies throughout the globe, but it surely’s protected to say the UFC is likely one of the greatest success tales to emerge from that disastrous time.

Whereas the pandemic prompted down years for almost everyone, the UFC nonetheless exploded in reputation over the previous three years, securing larger sponsorship offers, greater viewership, and surprisingly sufficient an invulnerability to shedding fan curiosity in occasions that didn’t all the time have nice identify worth hooked up. Working example: Conor McGregor hasn’t fought since 2021 but the previous two years have nonetheless been the very best ever for the UFC financially.

Now that the UFC operates as a publicly traded firm — first beneath Endeavor and now as a part of TKO Group Holdings — monetary disclosures are usually reported. What that reveals is that the UFC has develop into a juggernaut of profitability, with income will increase quarter after quarter, reworking the promotion into an organization valued at over triple the-more-than $4 billion price ticket Ari Emanuel and his buyers at Endeavor paid for it in 2016.

UFC went on a ridiculous streak of sellouts at arenas, and whereas that momentum finally stopped, the group has nonetheless damaged a number of stay gate information over the previous yr.

A deep dive into the numbers in 2023 proves that the UFC isn’t slowing down, and if something, the group could also be gaining steam heading into 2024 and past — 2025 will virtually assuredly develop into the UFC’s greatest monetary yr as a result of the corporate will ink a brand new broadcast rights deal value billions. Multi-billions truly.

However for now, we’re going to try the most important enterprise tales associated to the MMA world in 2023 — and only for transparency’s sake, there’s one difficulty we gained’t be tackling with this text, which is the impact of the continuing class-action lawsuit in opposition to the UFC. That’s to not say data revealed from the lawsuit gained’t be referenced, however its full monetary affect gained’t be felt till there’s both a settlement or the case goes to trial, and that’s not taking place in 2023.

So with that mentioned, let’s get began with a have a look at the UFC’s financials based mostly on disclosures by way of the primary 9 months of the yr (the ultimate quarter gained’t be reported till early 2024 so these aren’t obtainable simply but).

UFC Produced Extra Than $1 Billion in Income in Simply 9 Months

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That’s most likely essentially the most staggering quantity to start out with, as a result of the UFC managed to rake in document revenues with out even taking into consideration the ultimate three months of the yr, which included three pay-per-view playing cards in Abu Dhabi, New York, and Las Vegas.

Within the nine-month span ending on Sept. 30, the UFC earned income reaching $1,009.4 billion which was up from $868.4 million from the identical time in 2022.

Breaking that down by phase — the majority of the UFC’s income comes from media rights just like the promotion’s take care of ESPN, which has paid out $702.5 million by way of September. That quantity is up greater than $80 million from 2022.

Reside occasions accounted for $115.6 million, with sponsorship totaling $148 million. Lastly, shopper merchandise, which incorporates t-shirt and merchandise gross sales, hit $43.3 million to date in 2023.

These are all big numbers, and the ultimate figures will attain even greater as a result of that’s not even accounting for the vacation season, which is able to undoubtedly bump up the income for shopper merchandise particularly.

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Whereas the UFC stories monetary disclosures as required by regulation as a publicly traded firm, there’s nonetheless no direct perception on the corporate’s pay-per-view gross sales, but it surely’s protected to say these are sturdy given the huge income that was earned in 2023. Whereas stay gate numbers don’t all the time translate to PPV gross sales, UFC 295 is an effective instance of the “we simply can’t miss” proper now philosophy taking place on the UFC after the cardboard misplaced Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic as the primary occasion and nonetheless produced a stay gate at $12,432,563, the second-highest ever at New York’s Madison Sq. Backyard venue.

Care to enterprise a guess what’s No. 1?

Yep, that might be UFC 205 again in 2016, which earned $17.7 million in a stay gate for the first-ever card for the promotion in New York, with Conor McGregor headlining.

So far as the general stay gates for 2023 PPVs — minus UFC 283 in Brazil and UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi, the place no attendance or stay gate numbers had been made obtainable — the most important was UFC 295 in New York whereas the bottom was UFC 289, with a stay gate of $3,834,893 for the cardboard in Vancouver headlined by Amanda Nunes vs. Irene Aldana.

The attendance and stay gates for UFC Combat Evening playing cards had been additionally sturdy, because the promotion continued slicing prices by selling quite a few occasions on the UFC APEX. APEX playing cards value little or no outdoors of the expertise and manufacturing workers required to work the occasions and the reveals nonetheless handle spectacular ticket gross sales by way of Endeavor’s On Location premium occasion providers enterprise, the place followers pays north of $2,000 per ticket for a VIP expertise.

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In different phrases, the UFC raked in a number of earnings for 2023.

UFC Inks Large Cope with Bud Gentle

One other marquee second for the UFC’s enterprise in 2023 got here when the promotion introduced a brand new multi-year take care of Anheuser-Busch for Bud Gentle to develop into the official beer of the UFC in 2024.

Whereas the UFC didn’t report any greenback quantities, the deal was reportedly value greater than $100 million, which makes it one of many richest sponsorships the corporate has ever signed.

Bud Gentle was one of many first actual blue-chip sponsors to start out working with the UFC a number of years in the past when the promotion was nonetheless making an attempt to construct into a worldwide powerhouse. Now, these roles are reversed, with Bud Gentle again in enterprise with the UFC because the beer model makes an attempt to rebuild itself after a tumultuous 2023, which noticed Bud Gentle gross sales dip for the yr.

UFC CEO Dana White has defiantly defended the new partnership amid calls from a few of his most loyal supporters after the beer model partnered with trans activist and social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney. White fired again at critics over the partnership whereas reminding the world that he doesn’t work with anybody who doesn’t share his core beliefs.

“This was all about everyone on each facet of this deal that had been concerned, different beer corporations and every little thing else, [and they] completely, positively know this was not about cash for me,” White mentioned in October. “We had been going to finish up with cash irrespective of who we ended up with.

“For Anheuser-Busch, it was about core values for me. I’m at a degree in my life and I’m at a degree in my profession the place nothing is nearly cash anymore.”

UFC Builds On Partnerships within the Center East with Large Web site Charges

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Web site charges — cash paid to a promotion just like the UFC for holding an occasion in a sure metropolis, area, or in any other case — have develop into an enormous enterprise in recent times. WWE — the opposite half of TKO Group Holdings with the UFC — earns $100 million yearly to take two occasions to Saudi Arabia, and now the MMA promotion has began to see related outcomes.

In October, the UFC introduced an extension of an current relationship with the Division of Tradition and Tourism in Abu Dhabi that may see stay occasions persevering with to land there by way of 2028. The UFC has formally partnered with Abu Dhabi since 2019, with at the very least one pay-per-view card touchdown there per yr.

Web site charges in Abu Dhabi sometimes earn the UFC round $25 million per occasion, per TKO Group Holdings president Mark Shapiro.

One huge addition to the UFC’s portfolio, which was additionally introduced in October, will likely be taking a card to Saudi Arabia for the primary time in March 2024. Shapiro later revealed that the UFC would earn “roughly $20 million” for the primary ever UFC Combat Evening card in Saudi Arabia.

These are staggering numbers, and demonstrates why the UFC continues to develop and broaden its relationships within the Center East.

PFL Will get a Discount Basement Deal to Purchase Bellator

Collision 2022 - Day Two

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Donn Davis
Picture By Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile for Collision through Getty Photographs

Bellator’s sale felt like a foregone conclusion in 2023 as father or mother firm Paramount sought to dump crimson tape off its books, which included the long-running MMA promotion. Rumors started swirling months in the past that offers had been being negotiated that might probably worth Bellator at $500 million, after which different numbers began getting thrown round like $100 million.

It seems the precise money that traded arms when the PFL lastly closed a deal to accumulate Bellator from Paramount was zero. Nothing. Not a dime.

“This was a inventory deal, not a money deal,” PFL founder Donn Davis advised MMA Preventing after the sale closed in November. “They’re a small, minority proprietor going ahead.”

Now it’s simple to level to that deal and say, ‘Wow, PFL actually bought one over on Paramount,’ however that’s not precisely the case. It’s a must to keep in mind that Bellator wasn’t possible producing any severe income, a lot much less turning a revenue for Paramount, so dumping the promotion off its books to someone else actually simply saves them cash in the long term.

PFL now assumes Bellator’s money owed, which implies all the fighter roster and the contracts that come together with it. Over time, PFL will undoubtedly look to trim that roster. Sadly, that’s unhealthy information for the fighters, however will probably be carried out as a cost-cutting measure to ideally rework this merger right into a worthwhile firm.

PFL Secures Large Inflow of Funding from Saudi Arabia

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One other main story involving PFL in 2023 got here from the information that SRJ Sports activities Funding — a department of the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund — invested $100 million into the MMA promotion. In consequence, SRJ retains an possession share within the PFL.

A part of the deal consists of PFL taking occasions to Saudi Arabia, together with its “tremendous battle” collection on pay-per-view. PFL MENA may even launch within the close to future, which is able to develop prospects and placed on battle playing cards that includes fighters from the Center East and North Africa area.

The $100 million funding will definitely assist the PFL proceed to develop in 2024, particularly now that the corporate’s roster has virtually tripled in a single day with the Bellator acquisition.

PFL Re-Ups with ESPN

Yet one more PFL story that deserved some consideration in 2023 was the published rights deal to stick with ESPN on a brand new multi-year contract.

PFL already aired occasions on ESPN, however this new deal will proceed the partnership transferring ahead and maintain ESPN+ as one of many pay-per-view distributors for future PFL “tremendous battle” playing cards.

Monetary phrases of the deal weren’t disclosed, so it’s robust to know the way a lot ESPN paid to maintain the PFL.

However regardless of the Saudi funding and ESPN deal, so far as PFL serving as competitors to the UFC, the upper ups at TKO Group Holdings don’t appear to be shedding any sleep.

“The funding that SRJ made in PFL, we glance to our benefit,” Shapiro said in November. “We’ve no difficulty with Bellator, PFL, identify your league. Competitors is sweet.

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“Not solely do we now have over 600 fighters, we now have the premiere fighters. Finally you’re making an attempt to get to the UFC, which is akin to the XFL making an attempt to finally get their gamers into the NFL. That’s what we’re. These are pipeline and feeder properties. The truth is, we’re supportive of [PFL] being on ESPN. PFL’s been on ESPN. We had been completely supportive of that deal and the Saudi expertise ought to show out nicely for us.”

OnlyFans Continues to Drive Earnings for Fighters

BKFC

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That is an attention-grabbing twist relating to the enterprise of MMA and fight sports activities in 2023, as a result of OnlyFans — the subscription-based web site the place followers pays a payment to see unique pictures and movies, and work together with customers — has develop into an enormous a part of the sponsorship mannequin for the battle business.

When ex-UFC fighter and present BKFC expertise Bec Rawlings first joined the positioning through the international pandemic, she fielded a ton of questions about whether or not she was becoming a porn star because of OnlyFans being finest recognized for adult-related content material. Rawlings not solely defended her choice to affix OnlyFans, however she attributed her potential to outlive the pandemic largely to the earnings she created from promoting subscriptions to customers.

Quick ahead three years later and fighters like Kevin Holland, who orchestrated the primary sponsorship with the model, has his personal devoted OnlyFans web page. Even Stipe Miocic — the longest-reigning heavyweight champion in UFC historical past — has his own OnlyFans page the place he breaks information about his battle schedule.

The PFL even had an OnlyFans sponsorship displayed on the canvas through the promotion’s championship card in November.

UFC fighter Ailin Perez revealed after her most up-to-date win that she earned more than $30,000 from OnlyFans after a viral celebration bought a number of consideration. Perez mentioned that the cash she created from OnlyFans was at the very least $6,000 greater than she made by beating Lucie Pudilova on the cardboard.

Sources talking on the situation of anonymity advised MMA Preventing that fighters becoming a member of the platform on a sponsorship deal can generally earn north of $100,000 with OnlyFans.

In fact, the most important success story continues to be former UFC fighter Paige VanZant, who revealed that she earned more money on one day from OnlyFans than she did throughout her whole profession with the UFC. She beforehand advised MMA Preventing again in 2022 that she earned sufficient from OnlyFans that she could retire immediately and never worry about money again — and the identical would go for any youngsters she may need sooner or later sooner or later with fighter husband Austin Vanderford.

Only in the near past, VanZant completed development on a brand new home she inbuilt Florida whereas additionally launching her personal podcast. VanZant positively nonetheless plans on preventing once more, however OnlyFans has afforded her a life-style and a degree of success that the UFC by no means did.

There’s no telling how a lot cash VanZant earned from OnlyFans in 2023, but it surely’s protected to imagine it’s at the very least seven figures.

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One Final Factor on BKFC

OK, BKFC just isn’t MMA, so it doesn’t absolutely match into this mannequin for 2023, but it surely have to be talked about that the bare-knuckle outfit loved one other nice yr constructed on the again of Mike Perry turning into one of many greatest stars in fight sports activities. A pair of occasions — BKFC 41 in April and BKFC 56 in Utah — each drew big crowds, whereas additionally incomes stable gross sales on pay-per-views based mostly on every little thing that’s been reported.

As a result of BKFC is a non-public firm, there’s no solution to know for sure in regards to the monetary well being of the promotion, but it surely actually looks as if persons are enthusiastic about bare-knuckle preventing. The latest card headlined by Perry in opposition to ex-UFC champion Eddie Alvarez bought greater than 8,000 tickets, which is a feat no MMA group outdoors of the UFC can boast.

BKFC president David Feldman later revealed that BKFC 56 sold around 100,000 pay-per-views, which is a formidable determine, though he anticipated a lot greater. Sadly, the promotion was stricken by unlawful streams, which he mentioned discovered 1.3 million distinctive IP addresses watching the occasion.

That’s an enormous quantity of followers tuning into BKFC, however sadly the promotion doesn’t profit financially from most of them.

That being mentioned, the truth that BKFC has even made it to 56 occasions is a formidable accomplishment, and with California just lately voting to sanction bare-knuckle preventing within the state, that may open up a good larger marketplace for the promotion in 2024.

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