MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 1 – Conor McGregor returned and headlined biggest PPV in UFC history

December 31, 2018

The return of Conor McGregor to the Octagon to main event the biggest UFC PPV in its history is the number 1 MMA biz story of this year.

The event drew a reported 2.4 million PPV buys and was mired in controversy for its ugly ending with Khabib Nurmogomedov jumping the cage and going after Dillon Danis and Conor McGregor taking a swing at one of Khabib’s teammates. The event drew 1.9 million traditional PPV and an estimated 470K-480K streaming buys per Dave Meltzer’s report this past October.

McGregor’s return and storyline began in April 2018 when he got on a plane from Ireland to fly to New York to go after Khabib at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. As we know, he threw a dolly at the bus Khabib was on which led to his arrest. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing which shows us that the justice system can be bought.

The criminal activity led to the disruption of a UFC PPV event and 3 fights being taken off the card at UFC 223.

Yet, this added to the story for the UFC as the bus attack was played up in promoting UFC 229.

The press conference between Khabib and Conor included McGregor promoting his new whiskey, Proper No. Twelve as well as personal attacks by both. McGregor also took a shot at Khabib’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz in calling him a terrorist.

The personal attacks did not sit well with Khabib as it was clear it was extra motivation for him. He dominated their fight and submitted McGregor, held on to it a little longer than normal and then spat on him. Then the aforementioned melee ensued.

While most MMA weirdos thought this was the norm, it was a bad look for the sport. But the oddity of combat sports is that despite the after-fight brawl, the rematch will do big money.

At this point, its not clear what will become of the two. McGregor signed a six fight deal to fight in the UFC. Khabib has been on a championship tour of sorts after his fight but his purse from the event is still held up by the NAC due to his actions.

Our review of the event is here and my thoughts about Chickens Coming Home to Roost.

The event was the biggest PPV in the company’s history and it highlights the drawing power of McGregor. The concern will be what happens if McGregor goes on a losing streak. He still has drawing power and the charisma to bring in the mainstream. But if he loses a Khabib rematch, a Tony Ferguson fight and/or a Max Holloway return bout (all fights seem possible in 2019), we could see some problems with the selling of McGregor.

Still, McGregor’s drawing power is strong and he has devout fans that follow him. He came back from the Mayweather loss with the same swagger as before. Can he continue the same after Khabib? Likely.

10. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 10 – The UFC Antitrust Lawsuit rolls on

9. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 9 – NLRB denies Leslie Smith claims against Zuffa

8. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 8 – Golden Boy promotes first MMA event

7. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 7 – DAZN enters sports streaming market

6. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 6 – Josh Barnett “wins” at USADA arbitration, but still leaves promotion

5. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 5 – PFL debuts

4. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 4 – ONE making moves, signs media deal with Turner

3. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 3 – UFC signs media rights deal with ESPN

2.  MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 2 – Jon Jones returns to the UFC with controversy

MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 2 – Jon Jones returns to the UFC with controversy

December 31, 2018

Jon Jones returned to the UFC on Saturday night at UFC 232 at The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The Forum in Inglewood, California.  He had a masterful performance in decimating Alexander Gustafsson was marred as we know.

Jones tested positive for Turinabol, the drug that caused his previous suspension.  It showed up in an early December test and later revealed to be in tests in August of 2018.  Despite these finding USADA and the California State Athletic Commission were adamant that they not destroy Jon Jones’ career due to failing a drug test.  CSAC did not know of the August tests prior to giving Jones his license back which seems all the shadier since USADA and the UFC knew of these findings but did not provide them to Andy Foster.

The CSAC required that Jones register with VADA to fight in California.  It was intimated at the hearing that California would pay for his enrollment.  Foster had chartered a plane to drug test Jones prior to his CSAC hearing.  But, the drug test was at a non-WADA authenticated drug lab in San Dimas, California according to an MMA Fighting report.

The event was moved on Sunday of fight week to LA from Vegas.  The cost to do this was $6 million according to Dana White at the pre-fight press conference in LA on Thursday.  Flights were chartered, a building was secured (how long in advance would be interesting to know) and schedules were rearranged.  The underlying innocent victim of this was the fans that flew to Vegas or were flying to Vegas and had booked hotel rooms.  They were out money and lost out.

The good news is that the SoCal fans, who lost a UFC event in January when the company postponed its January 26 PPV event, came through with a sellout at The Forum.

As for the drug tests, picograms were used as a talking point to show the small amount of banned substance in his system stating that this could not have yielded any performance enhancement.  This, in itself, would seem like a faulty argument if your goal is for zero tolerance of banned substances.  Still, this was the talking point shoved down the media’s throat.  And yet, when a journalist asked a question of Jones and his tests, the former and now current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion called for “better journalism.”

Similarly, he left an interview with TSN because it was “killing his vibe.”  For both instances of blissful ignorance, he apologized.

Jeff Novitsky did the media rounds on Joe Rogan and then one on Friday before the event.  While both were fine, it revealed a lot of issues with the UFC Anti-Doping Program.  Notably, it was clear that the UFC and USADA were defending Jon Jones.

Also of importance, the conclusion was that the UFC needed to move the fight to save the PPV.

Notwithstanding the issues with Jones (and we probably won’t know about his in-competition tests for a while), its clear that a showdown with Daniel Cormier is inevitable.  Despite Cormier relinquishing the Light Heavyweight title the day before the fight and retiring soon, it’s clear that the two are on a collision course.  It will be a big PPV fight but the questions will remain about Jones.

10. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 10 – The UFC Antitrust Lawsuit rolls on

9. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 9 – NLRB denies Leslie Smith claims against Zuffa

8. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 8 – Golden Boy promotes first MMA event

7. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 7 – DAZN enters sports streaming market

6. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 6 – Josh Barnett “wins” at USADA arbitration, but still leaves promotion

5. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 5 – PFL debuts

4. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 4 – ONE making moves, signs media deal with Turner

3. MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 3 – UFC signs media rights deal with ESPN

MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 3 – UFC signs media rights deal with ESPN

December 30, 2018

The UFC will move to ESPN starting in 2019 as it signed a deal with the network this past May.  This also brought the end of the 7-year deal with Fox as its first network media rights deal.

ESPN paid $1.5 billion for the next five years starting in 2019 for its television and digital rights.  The UFC had been touting it was looking for $450M per year for 10 years.  The deal includes airing on ESPN and its new digital media platform, ESPN+.  The new deal with ESPN will carry 10-15 UFC events exclusively on ESPN+.

The first fight on ESPN will take place on January 19th at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center.

Via our original post on the story in May:

Per the press release supporting this announcement Dana White stated, “I couldn’t be more excited to partner with The Walt Disney Company and ESPN on an agreement that will continue to grow our sport. UFC has always done deals with the right partners at the right time and this one is no exception. We will now have the ability to deliver fights to our young fan base wherever they are and whenever they want it. This deal is a home run for ESPN and UFC.”

The press release also states:

“With more than 280 million fans around the world, UFC boasts the youngest fan base among major professional sports organizations in the US with a median age of 40 and an audience comprising 40% millennials.”

The lineup of UFC content available to ESPN+ subscribers will include:

  • Exclusive, all new-seasons of “Dana White’s Contender Series” beginning in June 2019
  • A new original, all-access series produced by IMG Original Content
  • Exclusive pre- and post-event shows for all 15 “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Nights”
  • Non-exclusive access to UFC’s full archive of programming, including historic events, classic bouts, and original programming
  • Additional UFC-branded content, including “UFC Countdown” shows, press conferences, weigh-ins, and pre-and post-shows

It was just announced that Dana White’s Contender Series will have a second season starting this June.  The announcement today confirms a third season starting next June.

Payout Perspective:

UFC Fight Pass will remain a standalone digital platform despite event airing on ESPN+.  On Saturday, it announced more content including additional fight promotions across the world as well as Roy Jones, Jr. promoted boxing.  Prior to the deal, assessing whether the UFC could attain a media rights deal to their liking despite a dip in its ratings and industry observers concerned that the product had been “watered-down,” the UFC ended up with a great deal.  While its not the amount of money it had wanted, it is now a part of the biggest sports network in North America.  This should help with other areas of its business including licensing and sponsorships (which appears to be picking up).

MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 4 – ONE making moves, signs media deal with Turner

December 30, 2018

ONE Championship made its presence known in the latter half of 2018 after it signed Eddie Alvarez, “traded” Ben Askren for Demetrious Johnson, Sage Northcutt, hired Miesha Tate as an executive and signed a media rights deal with Turner.

The Alvarez was the first big signing for One in October.  The former UFC lightweight champion weighed his options after his UFC contract ended and decided to sign with One.  It was a surprising move with the potential for The Underground King to go back to Bellator and compete in a talented lightweight division.  He’d also be closer to home fighting presumably in North America.

The acquisition of Demetrious Johnson came in the form of a “trade” with Ben Askren going to the UFC.  There was also the hiring of Miesha Tate as an executive for the Singapore company and then Sage Northcutt was signed by One after the UFC decided not to re-sign him.

ONE has come into question for its valuation of its finances as it has received a considerable amount of capital for a young company.  ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong responded with a post about how it raised $250 million from blue-chip investors.

ONE also came through with a media deal for 2019 which will allow North American viewers to watch ONE via a deal with Turner Sports.  The deal will include ONE on Turner’s B/R Live streaming service and TNT.

The first ONE show on Turner airs on January 19, 2019, the same day as the UFC’s debut on ESPN.

Also, a sidenote, it’s the same day as Manny Pacquiao’s next fight as he faces Adrien Broner on Showtime PPV.

This could be a new era for ONE as it extends its reach with the Turner deal.  Will this foster competition with the UFC?  Or are they going to compete on a secondary level with Bellator?  With its recent round of financing it looks like ONE is in spending mode and we will see how much MMA fans want to adopt.

MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 5 – PFL debuts

December 30, 2018

The Professional Fighters League began its first season this year and will end it on New Year’s Eve in New York.  Although the PFL has re-emerged from WSOF with a novel “season” with winners having a chance at $1 million, it still is suffering from lack of viewership according to its ratings.

The good news is the PFL found a television partner in NBC Sports Network.  It also had a concept which was intriguing as the fighters fought tournament style earning points with fighters entering the playoffs and a final in each of the weight divisions.

In August, it was reported that comedian Kevin Hart and several other famous Hollywood stars had invested $28 million in the PFL.  Hart even did a video promo for its playoffs this past October.

The new investors that took over include investment banker Russ Ramsey, venture capitalists Donn Davis and Mark Leschly and D.C. sports franchise owner Ted Leonis.

The PFL season started this past summer with playoffs occurring in October.  It will culminate on Monday, December 31st.  Despite the financial security it may have with its investors, the viewership of the events has been dismal as not one event has surpassed 200,000 viewers.  The ratings are smaller than WSOF events on NBC Sports Network.

With such notable investors, we will see what strategies they take to attempt to turn the tide for the organization.

UFC 232 attendance, gate and bonuses

December 29, 2018

Aaron Bronsteter of TSN Sports tweeted out the attendance and gate for Saturday night’s UFC 232.  Despite the short notice, the event was a sell out with 15,862 for a gate of over $2 million.

To be specific, the gate was $2,066,604.  The Fight of the Night went to Chad Mendes and Alexander Vokanovski.  The Performance Bonuses went to Ryan Hall and Amanda Nunes.

The event was moved earlier this week from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to The Forum in Inglewood, California for Jon Jones.

Notably, UFC 199 drew 15,587 for a live gate of $2,1687,675 in June 2016.  The fight featured last minute replacement Michael Bisping winning the middleweight title from Luke Rockhold.

Payout Perspective:

It was a good night at the gate for the UFC.  They were on par with UFC 199 with little time for ticket sales and promotion in the area.  We will see what the CSAC breakdown of tickets (and comps) says, but tonight’s numbers were impressive considering the last-minute change.  Hall had an impressive submission over the BJ Penn and of course Nunes solidified her legacy as the UFC’s best women’s fighter by KO’ing Cyborg in the first round.

Jones, Gus and Cyborg earn $500K for UFC 232 per CSAC disclosure

December 29, 2018

MMA Fighting has obtained the purses for the main-eventers for Saturday’s UFC 232.  Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson will earn $500,000 for their main event at The Forum in Inglewood, California.

There is no indication that either will receive a win bonus although it’s likely that each will receive a PPV upside.  In addition, Cris “Cyborg” will earn $500,000 while her opponent Amanda Nunes will earn $350,000.  The two will fight for Cyborg’s Featherweight title.

Payout Perspective:

Cyborg earned $500,000 in her last fight at UFC 222 in March. Nunes’ last reported salary was at UFC 207 when she retired Ronda Rousey and earned $200,000 and another $100,000 for her win.  Jones had earned $500,000 for his fight against Daniel Cormier in July 2017.  Gustafsson has not had a reported purse since 2012 so it’s hard to gage how much he’s earned for non-title fights.  We should have the rest of the list after the event.

MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 6 – Josh Barnett “wins” at USADA arbitration, but still leaves promotion

December 28, 2018

Josh Barnett became the first UFC athlete under the UFC Anti-Doping Program to not receive a suspension of time from fighting after taking his case of a failed drug test to arbitration.  Still, not trusting the drug testing process, Barnett requested his release from the company.

Barnett tested positive for a banned substance as a result of an out-of-competition sample on December 9, 2016.  The sample tested positive for Ostarine.

Barnett noted that he was routinely taking dietary supplements “to maintain his conditioning as an elite athlete.”  The opinion notes he took 17 supplements prior to providing the sample that came up positive for Ostarine.  Tributestin 750 was one of the supplements that was supposed to contain only Tribulus Terrestris.  Tribulus is not a Prohibited Substance.  “It is claimed to naturally support the production of testosterone among other positive health attributes.”

Through working with USADA, it was discovered through the process of supplement examination that Barnett’s Tributestin was contaminated with Ostarine.  After testimony at the hearing, USADA conceded that the source of the Ostarine found in Barnett’s out-of-competition samples were from Tributestin as the product was contaminated.  With this concession which USADA seemed to admit from the outset and confirmed with Barnett’s testimony, the case “became one of the Applicant being the victim of a Contaminated Product with a Prohibited Substance.”

Barnett’s prior history of failed drug tests was discussed and the matter of whether this was a second infraction of the UFC ADP.  However, the arbitrator determined that a drug sample taken by the California State Athletic Commission

Notably, Barnett, gave the UFC notice that he was taking a “leave of absence” on December 14, 2016.  Two weeks later, his A sample came up positive for Ostarine.

If not for Barnett’s detail in keeping the supplements he took while training, he would have likely been suspended.  The Arbitrator noted:  “I find this Applicant to be a very meticulous and careful person.  In my experience as an arbitrator of hundreds of doping cases I have never heard testimony from an individual who has taken so much care to record his supplement regime in order to avoid the very problem he is now experiencing.

After the arbitration determined that the supplement Barnett took was tainted, Barnett sued the maker in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Despite being exonerated, Barnett decided to leave the UFC.  The process showed how long it took for Barnett’s case to be adjudicated.  He had lost time and was the victim of a tainted supplement.  Barnett noted in a Facebook post of his distrust for USADA and its “insistence” to punish him despite Barnett’s belief that they new it was a tainted supplement issue.

Via Barnett’s Facebook Post:

I cannot in good conscience trust them to act in good faith or perhaps may even wish to look to enact some sort of vengeance in an attempt to cancel out my victory against them in arbitration. It’s not the kind of environment that I want to spend the final years of my career in.

This week USADA and the UFC Anti-Doping Program has come into question after it publicly defended Jon Jones after Turinabol had mysteriously returned to his system.  And then, Jeff Novitsky revealed that it was not just one test in December that showed the metabolite, but tests in August revealed the same.  He also stated at Friday’s press conference that the California State Athletic Commission was not privy to the August results.

At least from an outsider perspective, it’s clear that there are fissures in USADA’s system.  Novitsky has indicated that USADA will continue to be the vendor for the UFC Anti-Doping Policy with more tests.  But it is the quality, not quantity of test, investigation and swiftness adjudication that will help see results and satisfaction.

Josh Barnett wins USADA Arb… by on Scribd

MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 7 – DAZN enters sports streaming market

December 28, 2018

This past June, Bellator MMA announced a deal with sport streaming service DAZN.  The late September 2018 launch in the U.S. of the $9.99 per month service was another challenge on the traditional way we watch sports.

Perhaps bigger than the Bellator deal, and securing another deal with Combates America, it signed Canelo Alvarez to an exclusive deal which began in December.  Alvarez pummeled an overmatched Fielding.

Bellator MMA aired several events which were exclusive to DAZN but also some events were also airing on the Paramount Network.  But the streaming on the digital platform allowed subscribers to see the Bellator product where the promotion did not have media deals.

DAZN is spending a lot of money for media rights and we’ll see if it pays off in the end.  For Bellator, it’s hard to decipher whether the deal will help recruit new fans to its product, but it gets it more exposure in previously untapped markets.

The question for Bellator will be whether it decides to abandon the notion of PPV and air exclusive events on DAZN.

Few tickets remain for UFC 232 this Saturday

December 28, 2018

Despite the last-minute change by the UFC, ticket sales for UFC 232 at The Forum in Inglewood have done well.

Per Dana White’s tweet yesterday, he stated that the event was a sellout:

According to a review of Ticketmaster seats on Friday afternoon, the get in price for the event is $76.00 in the upper reaches of the arena.  There is a smattering of tickets on the floor near the cage going for $900.  But the sales have gone well with a limited window for tickets.

SeatGeek, a secondary market ticket broker has seats available for $113 to get in with floor seats going for $398.

In November, Golden Boy MMA held its event at The Forum and drew 7,839 for a gate of $732,288.

The last event at The Forum, UFC 199, drew 15,587 for a total gate of $2,168,675.

Payout Perspective:

The drug test debacle has done nothing to hurt ticket sales for this event.  It also shows that MMA fans are not offended by the Jon Jones USADA issue which says a lot about the state of MMA fandom.  This event should do much better than UFC 199 even with what the UFC says are reduced ticket prices.

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