The UFC has been sold to a group of private investors for approximately $4 billion. Following a report from The New York Times late Sunday night that the sale to Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG was imminent, UFC President Dana White confirmed the sale in interviews to ESPN and the Associated Press. WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel also announced the sale early Monday in an internal company email.
“We’ve been honored to have UFC and a number of its athletes as clients and couldn’t be happier to take our relationship to this next level as the organization’s owner and operating partner,” Emanuel wrote.
White will stay on to run the UFC, which will receive financial backing from a number of private equity firms including Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, as well as the investment firm of Michael S. Dell, founder of Dell Computers.
Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased the UFC for $2 million in 2001. They owned the majority share of the company but also brought in White to serve as head promoter and president for a 9 percent stake.
In 2010, a 10 percent share of the company was sold to Flash Entertainment, a branch of the Abu Dhabi government. Flash Entertainment will keep its share.
In recent months, White adamantly denied rumors that the UFC was up for grabs, stating it was “not for sale.” That was clearly false, but under new ownership he will maintain his duties as company president going forward. The Fertittas have tapped out, although they are also set to keep a minority share, they will step away from the realm of day-to-day operations in order to focus on other ventures such as their casino business.
Zuffa LLC, run by the Fertittas, took over the organization at a low point when the sport was viewed as too barbaric and uncivilized for mainstream acceptance, with Senator John McCain once labeling it “human cockfighting.” The evolution over the past 15 years has been remarkable. Zuffa invested more than $40 million in the company when the sport was outlawed in many regions and eventually reached a point where it hit a profit and turned into a worldwide entity that airs its events in upward of 156 countries across various platforms. New York finally lifted its MMA ban earlier this year, and the sport is now legal in all 50 states.
Under Zuffa ownership, the UFC promoted 330 events, the most recent being the landmark UFC 200 fight card on July 9th in Las Vegas. The event set Nevada MMA event records for attendance (18,202) and live gate ($10.7 million).
White told ESPN that fans shouldn’t be worried about the sale, and that it would elevate the sport “to the next level.”
UFC star and Featherweight champion Conor McGregor, who is among the highest earners on the roster and made Forbes‘ list of highest-paid athletes this year, reacted to the news on Twitter.
I am honoured to have fought under the Fertitta regime! To have been mentored by these great people on this great business is a true honour!
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) July 11, 2016
Although the deal reportedly won’t close for several more weeks, the $4 billion sale cost for UFC represents the largest franchise sale in sports history.