Dana White talks about UFC business at Sports Media Tech Conference

November 6, 2014

On Thursday morning, UFC president Dana White was a featured guest at the NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference.  The conference which centered on the future of sports media technology had White as one of its key speakers to talk about the company.

Notably, White addressed the issue of low PPV numbers.  He acknowledged the PPV decline this year but indicated that when “big events happen, the pay-per-view numbers will come back.”  And while the UFC generates a healthy amount of its revenue from PPV, White stressed that it is “much more” than a PPV company.  He stressed the UFC’s broadcast deal with Fox, TUF and the growth of the brand in global markets.  White stated that while the company hears the “negative stuff” in the U.S., its global strategy is doing well.

After the session, White gave an interview with SMT Live.  In the interview, he talks about the globalization of the sport and brought up Connor McGregor, GSP and Michael Bisping as examples of fighters with huge backing based upon their country of origin.

White talked about Fight Pass and gave the number that 65-70% of its business outside of the U.S. is related to its digital network.

When discussing its television deals around the world he mentioned Fox, Globo (Brazil), BT Sport (UK), Abu Dhabi Media (Middle East), TV3 (Ireland) and Fox (Australia/New Zealand).  White stated that there were more but did not name them.

Other points:

He mentioned the expansion of  UFC Gyms.  According to White, there are over 100 UFC Gyms with over 100,000 members.

He talked about the UFC relationship with EA and spoke about how the video game educates the users about MMA.

White also spoke about the variety of fight statistics that are out there now and how it has added to the sport of MMA.

Payout Perspective:

The tie-in to this media and tech conference is that NeuLion works with the UFC on Fight Pass.   The message from White is that the UFC’s strategy is much more than PPV revenue.  Specifically, the UFC is doing well overseas despite the porous news in the U.S.  The message Thursday was that the UFC business growth is based on its overseas expansion and television deals.  As for addressing the PPV numbers, there was not much White could say other than the tacit admission that there have not been big events on PPV this year that would garner huge buy rates.

TUF 20 Episode 7: 494,000

November 6, 2014

MMA Payout has learned from a Nielsen source that the seventh episode of TUF 20 scored an average viewership of 494,000.  It was the second lowest of this season and the fourth straight week with a decline in viewership.

In the episode’s fight of the night, Rose Namajunas defeated Alex Chambers via RNC in round 1.  Also featured on the episode were Kron Gracie and two members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team: Sydney Leroux and Megan Rapinoe.

TUF 20 Episode 7

Payout Perspective:

Not a bad episode of TUF but the ratings are slipping away. The NBA did make its return to ESPN to compete for viewership, but the decline has been steady since Episode 4. Based on Television By Numbers, the highest rated show on cable was America Horror Story on FX which did 4.2 million viewers and aired at the same time as TUF 20.

New poll asks sports execs about relevancy of sports

November 5, 2014

A new sports poll posted in the Sports Business Journal (subscription required) last week lists boxing and mixed martial arts as sports that some senior-level sports industry executives in pro and college sports thought may slip into irrelevance. The poll, which was a part of bigger feature on horse racing in last week’s issue named the sport of sailing as the most dangerous to become obscure.

The poll that was given this past September to 2,000 senior-level sports executive had boxing as the second most dangerous sport to fall into irrelevance followed by horse racing and then MMA.

The poll, which was part of a story on the Breeder’s Cup horse racing event last week gauged the pulse of sports executives as to their opinions. Turnkey Sports & Entertainment conducted the survey in conjunction with the Sports Business Journal.

The question that was posed to the executives was, “Which of the following sports is in most danger of slipping into irrelevance?”

Sailing was on the top of the list with 43% of those polled picking the sport which most visible event is The America’s Cup. Next, was boxing with 34% followed by horse racing, 15% and then MMA 6%. Two percent of those polled gave no response or were not sure.

Payout Perspective:

The poll appears to be solely based on the opinions of senior sports industry executives and does not base it on any findings or numbers which would have them conclude which sports has fallen into irrelevancy. But, the survey reveals the perceptions of those within the sports industry. Its likely that the poll was meant to evaluate the opinions as it relates to horse racing as the feature story this survey accompanied was how the Breeder’s Cup adds enhancements to bring more of an audience to its event. As for the listing of boxing and MMA, one might infer that boxing appears so high on the list due to the lack of notable fights and the lack of the sport on network television. Obviously, those that follow the sport of boxing know that with the battle between HBO-Showtime and the influx of PPVs for boxing fans, the sport continues on. For MMA, why it appears on the list although not as high, might be due to the fact that there are not as many big events.  Similar to boxing, most MMA followers know that there are a lot of MMA events for fans to watch, its just that there are not enough big events due to injury, scheduling or other factors.

British Judo announces UFC as title sponsor for 2015 British Open

November 3, 2014

British Judo announced that the UFC has signed on as title sponsors of the 2015 British Open Judo Championships.  The sponsorship reflects a part of a new partnership between the two organizations.

The Championships will take place at Wembley Arena on July 12th.  The UFC will secure ads on the British Judo website and social media.  The belief is that the partnership will aid both organizations.

British Judo Chief Executive, Andrew Scoular stated in a news item announcing the partnership on the British Judo website, “By partnering with such a leading martial arts brand as UFC, we will receive significant added exposure for British Judo as a core martial art and the partnership will be instrumental in raising the profile of the sport of judo, ultimately leading to increased participation for young people.”

In the same news item, Garry Cook, UFC Chief Global Brand Officer said: “The 2015 British Open Judo Championships will be a fantastic event and an important stage on which athletes can perform and promote their sport. Judo is a key component of mixed martial arts, and we are excited at the prospect of bringing together UFC fans, Judo supporters and practitioners of both sports.”

Judo has found success in its membership after the rise of Ronda Rousey.  Rousey earned an Olympic medal in Judo at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.

(H/t:  MMA Junkie)

Payout Perspective:

We have seen Judo, USA Wrestling and Tae Kwon Do all secure sponsorship spots with the UFC at recent events.  The interest level of these disciplines, as well as jiu jitsu, can be directly attributed to the popularity of mixed martial arts and the UFC.  This latest move reflects the UFC reaching out to Judo for more visibility.  We may see the UFC reach out to other MMA disciplines in the future.

Jones eyes Reebok sponsorship

November 2, 2014

Last week, MMA Fighting reported that Jon Jones was in talks with Reebok about a potential sponsorship.  Looking to replace Nike, Jones would be the third UFC fighter sponsored by the sports apparel company.

Although the report indicated that Jones’ team was in talks with other sponsors, Reebok appeared to be one of the frontrunners to sign the UFC Light Heavyweight champion.  Jones lost his Nike sponsorship as a result of his media day melee with Daniel Cormier in August.  However, it appears that the Beaverton, Oregon company may be leaving the MMA space altogether as former Nike endorser, Anderson Silva, revealed that he no longer was with Nike.  Junior dos Santos was the only other Nike sponsor.  No word whether JDS’s deal is also done with Nike. Silva is in talks with Adidas as a replacement.

Reebok currently sponsors UFC fighters Anthony Pettis and Johny Hendricks.

Payout Perspective:

The Reebok signing may make sense especially if it becomes the official uniform of the UFC.  Jones has sported multiple mainstream sponsors including Nike and Gatorade.  Losing Nike may have been inevitable.  Despite the fight with Cormier, Jones is still a marketable fighter that will find a replacement for Nike in the near future.

NAC finally tests Belfort

November 2, 2014

Yahoo! Sports first reported that the Nevada Athletic Commission has tested Vitor Belfort.  The report indicates that Belfort submitted to both blood and urine samples in Florda where he is training for his February 28th fight with Chris Weidman.

It will take two weeks for the results to become known.

The news comes shortly after news surfaced that the NAC had not randomly tested Belfort despite strong comments during Belfort’s NAC hearing in July.  The report indicated that the NAC would turn over the drug testing duties to the California State Athletic Commission as it was revealed that is where Belfort-Weidman would take place.

The lack of testing seemingly drew the ire of the middleweight champion.

After learning of the Belfort test, Weidman was pleased.

Payout Perspective:

One has to think that the test was done in light of the public scrutiny and/or lobbying of Weidman.  Otherwise, it seemed like the NAC would have just let the CSAC take over.  But, NAC Executive Director Bob Bennett claims that the NAC always had planned to test Belfort even with the news of the bout in California.  We will see what transpires with the test results in a couple weeks.

TUF 20 Episode 6: 500,000

October 31, 2014

The 6th episode of TUF 20 on FS1 which aired this past Wednesday received an average viewership of 500,000 viewers.  The episode went up against Game 7 of the World Series on Fox.

In the fight of the show, Aisling Daly submitted Angela Magana.  Arguably, there was a questionable standup by the ref which negated a potential submission attempted by Magana.

TUF 20 Ep 6 Live

Payout Perspective:

Magana had one of the sadder backstory’s on the show and it was a disappointing loss.

As for the ratings, going up against Game 7 in any sport would draw most sports fans away from anything else.  Still, the A18-49 demo remained relatively flat (345,000) in comparison to the average over the season (346,000).  The World Series on Fox scored 23.5 million viewers which was the highest rating for the 7 games.  Of course, going into Game 7, it was on pace to be the lowest rated series and least-viewed ever.

UFC supports expansion of legalized sports betting

October 31, 2014

ESPN reports that the UFC, to no surprise, supports the expansion of legalized sports betting in the United States.  UFC exec Lawrence Epstein was quoted as saying that legalized sports betting “will enhance the game as opposed to doing anything to hurt it.”

Epstein also stated to ESPN about the proposed new law allowing sports betting in New Jersey, “[t]o the extent that there’s nothing illegal about taking bets on the UFC in the state of New Jersey, we’d be absolutely fine with it.”  The comments come on the heels of similar support from first year NBA commissioner Adam Silver who believes that sports betting legalization in the U.S. is “inevitable.”

Major sports leagues including the NBA have sued the state of New Jersey and have obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the state’s racetrack, Monmouth Park, from accepting bets on its games.  Of note, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp wrote in his ruling that the restraining order was not limited to the sport leagues involved in the suit.  Thus, it could prevent taking bets on MMA even though no promotion is currently involved in the litigation.

The lawsuit by the leagues argues that the law passed by Governor Christie, the 2014 Sports Wagering Act, violates the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PAPSA).  PAPSA bans state-sponsored sports betting on all sports except jai alai, pari-mutuel horse and dog racing except in four states:  Oregon, Nevada, Montana and Delaware.  These four states have pre-existing gaming laws.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation that partially repealed the state’s sports betting ban.  Based on this, the state would allow sports betting at casinos and racetracks, which are licensed by the state.  Monmouth Park would have taken bets this Sunday if not for the temporary injunction filed by the sports leagues.

At this point, the sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL) have filed their reply briefs in New Jersey on the matter and now Judge Shipp will decide on whether oral argument is necessary. The TRO ends November 21st.

For those wondering, this issue is just the latest episode of a long fight for legalized sports betting in New Jersey.  A similar case was denied a U.S. Supreme Court hearing last term.  In arguing that  PAPSA violated states’ rights, New Jersey stated that the law was unconstitutional because it fully exempts Nevada and partially exempts Oregon, Montana and Delaware from the ban.  New Jersey had lost an appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to a rehearing on the case and attempted to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a result of the denial, in August 2014, New Jersey passed the aforementioned partial repeal on the prohibition against sports wagering as a “work around.”  But, this is where we get the lawsuit from the sports leagues.

While the NBA may one day support legalized gambling, the issue here is the state law in New Jersey.  One would think that if a federal law is passed, the sports leagues would comply.

Payout Perspective:

It’s clear that the UFC, with its heritage (and some sponsors) based in the gambling industry, would support legalized sports betting in the U.S.  Certainly, the UFC might have concerns with regulation but overall it would seem like broader availability to gamble on the UFC would garner more interest in its product.  Obviously, the UFC is willing considering it seamlessly offers betting lines during its events and programming.  The new litigation in New Jersey will be interesting to follow as the  underlying issue here is that the law seems to be a way to boost revenue for the state.  Its not clear if the UFC will get involved at this point, but it will certainly be following it closely.

Rousey signs deal with Buffalo David Bitton

October 30, 2014

Ronda Rousey has signed an endorsement deal with jeans brand Buffalo David Bitton.  Rousey was interviewed about her Manhattan photo shoot for the brand.

The photo shoot features some provocative shots with Rousey and a male model.

Rousey’s next fight against Cat Zingano has been moved from December in Vegas to February in Los Angeles.

The video of her photo shoot is here.

Payout Perspective:

The photo shoot is an extension of Rousey’s brand outside of the Octagon and reflects her mainstream popularity.  This photo shoot is a far cry from her Insureon commercials or even when she did the ESPN Body Issue.  It shows another side of Rousey as she seems to be embracing the entertainment side of her fame.

Rousey-Zingano moves to LA on February 28th

October 29, 2014

Dana White announced via Instagram on Wednesday that the Ronda Rousey-Cat Zingano fight originally announced for UFC 182 will now be the co-main event for UFC 184 set for Los Angeles on February 28, 2015.

Originally set for January 3rd and to be the co-main event for Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier, Rousey gets to fight closer to home against Zingano.

One might expect Universal Studios to do some promotion within the UFC (perhaps Octagon signage) as Rousey will be in Fast and Furious 7.  Furious 7 opens April 3, 2014.

Payout Perspective:

The Weidman-Rousey team continues as Log Angeles gets a very good top of the card for its “make good” from this past summer’s cancelled event.  Obviously, many are speculating that if Belfort, who is coming off of TRT, gets injured or tests positive for something that Rousey can slide in as the main event.  Certainly, Rousey is very popular and with a fight at Staples, she should be a hometown favorite that could draw.  From a PPV perspective, putting Rousey on this card should help with the buy rate as we assume that the UFC is comfortable with Jones-Cormier as a marketable fight for UFC 182.  Jones, as a headliner averages approximately 479,000 PPV buys.  Rousey averages 395,000 PPV buys although the team of Weidman and Rousey average 785,000 PPV buys in the two events they have headlined.

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