Ontario the New MMA Mecca

January 25, 2010

Brett Clarkson of the Toronto Sun features a discussion with Marc Ratner in his latest piece, which focuses on the growing popularity of MMA and the UFC in the province.

According to Ratner, there isn’t a place on earth that boasts more of an interest in UFC than Ontario.


“When we look at our TV ratings and our pay-per-view buys, on a per-capita basis, Toronto and Ontario are the No. 1 places in the world,” he said.


“It’s unbelievably popular in the province of Ontario and especially Toronto,” said Ratner, the former boss of the powerful Nevada Athletic Commission, which governs boxing and MMA in the state.


But despite the rabid enthusiasm for ultimate fighting here, Ratner and his colleagues at the Vegas-based UFC have so far been unsuccessful in terms of getting Ontario to follow the lead of 43 U.S. states and eight provinces in allowing mixed martial arts (MMA).


Though it’s not for lack of trying. In the past two years Ratner and his UFC colleagues have been here three times in an effort to sell the McGuinty government. They’ve also paid a visit to Ottawa to meet with members of the federal government. They’ve hired former premier David Peterson and the law firm he works at, Cassels Brock, to help in their lobbying efforts in Ontario.


For Ottawa, where the federal government has the power to amend Sec. 83 of the Criminal Code, which pertains to prizefighting laws, UFC has enlisted The Capital Hill Group.


Perhaps all the elbow grease is working. In an end-of-year TV interview, McGuinty said he’s “got an open mind” about UFC and so far it’s been the strongest signal yet that the province’s historic resistance to MMA fighting might be coming to an end.


Looking to capitalize on what they hope to be a turning tide, Ratner told the Sun he and several other UFC colleagues will likely be travelling back to Toronto at the end of February or March to shake the right hands in an effort to fulfil UFC president Dana White’s goal of bringing ultimate fighting to Toronto in 2010.


“We’re very bullish on Toronto, on Ontario, and we’ll just keep on endeavouring to educate and show the value of the sport, the health and safety of it, the economic impact of it,” Ratner says. “I hope the day comes when we’ll be able to bring it there.”


Ratner said in addition to Toronto, UFC is also looking at Hamilton and Ottawa as potential host cities.


But this week the ministry in charge of the issue wasn’t tipping its hat either way.


A spokesman for the provincial Consumer Services Ministry, which oversees the Ontario Athletic Commission and its governing legislation, was tight-lipped on whether or not the provincial government is set to make the necessary changes in law to allow for competitive mixed martial arts events.


“The government would have to make amendments to the regulations under the Athletics Control Act before professional MMA could be allowed in Ontario,” said Consumer Services Ministry spokesman Sue Carroll.

Payout Perspective:

Dave Meltzer usually gives a round-up of the strongest UFC PPV markets in North America and the likes of Toronto and Hamilton are almost always at the top of the list in addition to other Canadian cities like Halifax, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Most of the American markets on the list are in the Southwest: usually Vegas, San Diego, Sacramento, etc.

All the Canadian hype is legitimate – MMA is becoming incredibly popular in Canada. Not everyone likes the sport, but almost everyone has heard about it and knows someone that either fights, trains, or at the very least is an avid fan. The size of the market opportunity for the UFC – even at just the UFN level – is quite large; to give an idea of the potential, the UFN in Faifax last week did $730,000 at the gate, but a similar event in Edmonton, Calgary, or Winnipeg would do $1 million plus. The demand exists that they could fill the 16,000 MTS Center or the 18,000 Rexall with a headline like Florian-Gomi or Jones-Vera .

The last I heard, the UFC was investigating opportunities for a Spike event in Canada; possibly as early as this summer. Stay tuned.

One Response to “Ontario the New MMA Mecca”

  1. Why was toronto such a big deal? - Page 13 - Sherdog Mixed Martial Arts Forums on January 30th, 2011 8:11 PM

    […] is why Ontario the New MMA Mecca : MMAPayout.com: The Business of MMA __________________ "I'm going to bang his head on the table maybe ten times or […]

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