Turns out the rumors were indeed true.
Just 24 hours after the historic UFC 200 pay-per-view event, UFC has been sold to global sports management and media company WME-IMG.
The New York Times today reported that WME-IMG, backed by Silver Lake Capital, KKR and MSD Capital forked out some US$4 billion for the UFC – the most expensive sale of a franchise in sports history.
Financial details about the deal were not disclosed by either company.
“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes,” said WME-IMG Co-CEOs Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell.
“It’s been exciting to watch the organisation’s incredible growth over the last decade under the leadership of the Fertitta brothers, Dana White and their dedicated team.
“We’re now committed to pursuing new opportunities for UFC and its talented athletes to ensure the sport’s continued growth and success on a global scale.”
UFC president Dana White, who for the past two months has denied such a sale, today hailed it as good news for MMA fans.
“No other sport compares to UFC,” said White, who will continue in his current role.
“Our goal has always been to put on the biggest and the best fights for our fans, and to make this the biggest sport in the world. I’m looking forward to working with WME-IMG to continue to take this sport to the next level.”
White’s long-term business partners, casino entrepreneurs Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, will both retain a passive minority interest in the organisation, but will step down from day-to-day operations.
The rise and rise of UFC and mixed martial arts has been something of a phenomena in modern sport. Founded in 1993, UFC is one of the largest and fastest growing sports brands in the world, particularly among millennials.
The organisation produces more than 40 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world, thanks in part to the appeal of stars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor.
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A broadcast deal with Fox Sports has been instrumental for its global expansion, with UFC broadcast in some 156 countries to nearly 1.1 billion television households worldwide, in 29 different languages.
Deals with the likes of Reebok and Monster show just how far and lucrative the sport of MMA has become. This past weekend the UFC attracted 18,202 to the new T-Mobile arena with a gate of more $10.7 million.
In recent years the organisation has sought to reach a younger audience through digital distribution platforms and its wholly-owned subscription service, Fight Pass, with exclusive live events and an extensive back catalogue of content.
For WME-IMG, it continues a shopping spree that has included buying Professional Bull Riders and the Miss Universe pageant from Donald Trump. WME-IMG is widely tipped for a potential initial public offering.