$4.2 Billion Was A Heist

By The Way - Weekly Columns


By Jody Jamieson This summer will mark two years since the sale of The Ultimate Fighting Championship from Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta to WME-IMG. I don’t need to repeat the figure. It’s in the title. The question now isn’t “did WME-IMG get a good deal?” but rather “how badly did WME-IMG get hosed?” The answer is “very.” Without question MMA has never been bigger as a sport, and is only growing and becoming more mainstream every year. This still doesn’t go close to justifying the price tag as an investment in the future for a variety of reasons. Firstly there’s the fact that WME-IMG need to make a return on their investment, and there’s a catch-22 scenario already rearing its ugly head for the company when it comes to fighter pay. One of the unfortunate reasons for the success of the UFC is that they’ve for a long time been able to market massive events and make a killing on tickets and pay-per-view without paying the fighters a fair share of the pot. This applies up and down the card from first prelim to main event. Many people will balk at the type of money Conor McGregor made in base pay in 2016. But the combined $7.5 million base play plus bonus and PPV points are a drop in the ocean compared to what he made for one night in Vegas with Floyd Mayweather. Many doubt the biggest star in the company will ever be back. He’s not the only one currently missing in action. Nate Diaz rumours are swirling, but as of right now he’s still on hiatus with his “fuck you” money. Same for his brother Nick. On the other end of the spectrum we have Saturday’s co-main event from Belem, Brazil. The story of Priscila Cachoeira is an inspiring one. A Brazilian fighter who fought back from child abuse and drug addiction to make her way to the biggest promotion in the world is the stuff of dreams. But her debut couldn’t have been a bigger nightmare. Valentina Shevchenko destroyed her from start to finish, and the finish was shambolic, in that it should have happened ages before. A clear mismatch, Shevchenko just brutalised her opponent until Mario Yamasaki decided enough was enough way too late. Despite co-main eventing and taking one of the worst beatings in the history of the company, Cachoeira was paid $13,500 for her troubles. She’s now on the shelf with a serious knee injury which has halted her ability to make any extra money through fighting to live comfortably in 2018. Fighter’s unions have long been talked about, but never quite come to fruition. In some ways it’s the athletes themselves who have failed to realise the benefits of having a Collective Bargaining Agreement akin to the four major sports leagues in the United States. While players make about 50% of the revenue generated in those sports, UFC fighters were estimated to have taken about 9% of the company’s takings in 2016. Even while taking 91% of the revenue, the UFC still has a black hole in its books due to the loan taken out to pay for the company in 2016. Anything resembling a fair CBA could be potentially disastrous for those in charge. It’s little wonder Dana White has been vociferously anti-union for so many years. It’s one problem if the outgoings go up. It’s another problem all together if the revenue streams go down. While the company obviously makes some decent cash on ticket sales, the main revenue streams are pay-per-view and their television deal. Pay-Per-View is its own problem. While the mega shows will still bring in a million plus buys, like it did five times in 2016, the lack of true star power meant that no show in 2017 did one million buys. So far only UFC 226 looks like it has any potential to get close with the Stipe Miocic-Daniel Cormier fight and whatever will be stacked below it, the bottom end of the spectrum is trending even more in the wrong direction. Long gone are the days where 300,000 buys was the floor. Nowadays more shows do less than that than more, and some considerably less. There are many factors that go into this, but there are many pay-per-view cards nowadays that are there just to satisfy the schedule. We’re lucky over here to get all the big shows on BT Sport, but it’s $65 in the US to buy UFC 221 this Saturday. Can you imagine how few buys that card would do if anything happens to the main event? Your new main event would be Mark Hunt vs. Curtis Blaydes. A decent fight, but not one you’re paying $65 to watch. Tai Tuivasa vs. Cyril Asker would be your new co-main. This card is extremely thin. But at least the TV ratings are holding up, right? Well, not exactly. TV ratings are in the tank right now at the worst possible time. UFC will be signing a new television deal at some point in 2018, and they’ll get more than the $100 million they’re getting right now. But they believed they could get $450 million annually, and that’s looking more and more unlikely with each passing rating, where right now they’re struggling to get a million viewers on some shows. Fox lowballed them with a $200 million offer, and then haven’t come back to the table yet despite their exclusivity period expiring. What won’t turn around the ratings any time soon is the over exposure of the product right now. After backloading the Madison Square Garden card and the December 30th show, the recent cards (including this Saturday’s UFC 221 show) have been incredibly thin. Going heavy on star power to close out 2017 and then running 8 consecutive weeks in January and February was probably not the wisest plan. In fairness to the UFC though, there have been two great opportunities to make a fresh breakthrough over the past six months, and results haven’t gone their way. Jon Jones victory over Daniel Cormier felt like the dawning of a new era at light heavyweight and it seemed Jones had turned over a new leaf, calling out Brock Lesnar for a battle of USASA superfight. USASA came calling alright. To point out Jones had failed again. With the eyes of the world on combat sports during McGregor-Mayweather fight week, that was a bad look for MMA, coming just four days before the Vegas showdown. The second was Miocic’s impressive dismantling of Francis Ngannou. Ngannou really looked like the next big star when he nearly took Alistair Overeem’s head off. But the champ took Ngannou apart and dismantled the mystique on his way to a lop sided decision. If either thing goes the way of the company, we might be having a different conversation. UFC 221 doesn’t promise too much this Saturday on paper, but as always I’ll be here on ByTheMinute.co to bring you live coverage from first prelim through to the main event. At least Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold looks like a hell of a fight. Let’s hope there’s a few pleasant surprises elsewhere. The UFC could really use one.