A deal is in place in which UFC, a mixed martial arts organization that was purchased in 2000 for $2 million, will be sold for $4 billion in what will be the biggest transaction in history for a sports organization.
UFC President Dana White and Ari Emanuel, who is co-chief executive officer of one of the purchasers, confirmed the sale to ESPN and the Associated Press after news of the eye-popping transaction broke Sunday night. The new owners will be the entertainment agency William Morris Endeavor-IMG (and its owner Silver Lake Capital), the private equity company KKR and MSD Capital, the investment firm of billionaire Michael Dell. The news was announced in an internal company email that included SNTV, which is a joint venture involving the AP and IMG.
"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 said.
The CBS affiliate in Las Vegas reported that an official announcement would come Monday morning. Lorenzo Fertitta, the UFC CEO who purchased the company along with his brother Frank, is expected to remain as chairman through the transition. Frank Fertitta will retain an ownership stake in the company, but it is expected to be smaller than the brothers' current combined figured of about 80 percent. White, who owns about 9 percent of the company, is expected to retain an ownership stake, too. The Abu Dhabi government's Flash Entertainment is a 10 percent owner of UFC, whose parent company is Zuffa LLC. (Zuffa is Italian for "fight.")
In May, White had dismissed talk that a sale was imminent, telling the "Dan Patrick Show" that "we're not up for sale." And White reiterated that in an interview with the Los Angeles Times early last week.
"We're always working on deals and our expansion globally," White told Patrick in May. "I've been saying since this thing came out, no, we're not for sale, but let me tell you what. If somebody shows up with $4 billion, we can talk. We can definitely talk."
Well, somebody did and they did more than talk.
In the last decade of its 23-year history, UFC has become a global sports force, with the privately held company generating an estimated $600 million in revenue last year, and has attracted a growing audience of millennials, a group coveted by advertisers and TV networks. It says its fights are shown in more than 156 countries and its events are the top sellers on pay-per-view TV. The Fertittas, who made their first fortune as casino owners, estimate that 30 million to 40 million people watch their biggest pay-per-view events, according to the New York Times.
Over the weekend, UFC 200 drew more than 18,000 fans to T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas despite the absence of Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, the sport's biggest stars. The card, which also featured the crossover of WWE star Brock Lesnar, was thrown into disarray late last week when Jon Jones was scratched because he tested positive for an undisclosed substance.