Six Months On: How The UFC Has Changed Under WME-IMG Ownership

BusinessOfSport.Net YouTube Channel

Back in July last year, stunning news emerged that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was being sold for an eye-watering $4 billion to William Morris Endeavor-International Management Group, (WME-IMG), one of the biggest representation firms in sport. The price tag stands as most expensive transaction for an organisation in sports history and was about seven times its gross revenue. Within this deal, strangely enough, the government of Abu Dhabi still retained 10% of the business.

Six months on from the deal, what, if anything has changed within the UFC?

The Times Are A Changin’

  • Layoffs: After exponential growth in the past number of years and roughly 400 employees, the new owners have already relieved 80 percent of UFC Canada and 50 percent of UFC Asia of their jobs, reducing the overall workforce by between 15-20%. This is likely in an attempt to streamline the workforce and make savings where they can – $4 billion is a lot of change to drop.
  • Significant (Backroom) Departures #1: Chuck Liddell, UFC legend and light heavyweight champion and Matt Hughes, ex-welterweight titleholder, were both given their marching orders at the end of 2016.
  • Significant (Backroom) Departures#2: Some noteable departures have been announced in the backrooms including Giovani Decker, President and General Manager for Brazil (a traditional stomping ground for the company given its heritage).
  • Significant Fighter Issues: To free agent Rory MacDonald did not have his contract renewed and has since joined rival organisation, Bellator. Meanwhile, Georges St-Pierre, another UFC legend, but still competing has had a very public falling out with the organisation over a proposed new contract.  Interestingly, long time matchmaker Joe Silva was also one of the first to leave the organisation post-ZUFFA ownership during the summer.

But Some Things Stay The Same

  • Dana Can Still Be Dana: The UFC head honcho is still firmly trusted to continue as the official face of the organisation for the foreseeable future, signing  a new five year deal with the new regime of the UFC.  Continuing on as President of the UFC means he will receive 9% of the company’s net profits during that time instead of an ownership stake, which he sold to WME-IMG.
  • McGregor Is Still Being McGregor: After his impressive blowout of Eddie Alverez, the UFC cash cow, Conor McGregor famously said: “I want the ownership now. I want the equal share. I want what I deserve, what I’ve earned.” While his two fights with Nate Diaz  drew a combined $18.8 million in live gate sales and  broke the UFC pay-per-view record each time with more than 3 million total buys, the new owners will nearly definitely not be offering him a slice of their expensive pie.

Where To Next?

  • Visibility With Fighters: An interesting development has been the open invitation that WME-IMG has offered to all 500 plus active UFC fighters  to gather in Las Vegas in May for a two-day ‘retreat’.
  • UFC Performance Institute: As part of this ‘retreat’ the new 30,000 square foot ‘UFC Performance Institute’, will likely open in May in tandem with this event, on the company’s new campus facility in Las Vegas. It will be free to all UFC and former UFC fighters and is designed to provide better training techniques, improve fitness, and help with injury rehabilitation and prevention, which in part might be mirrored off some what rival organisation, WWE’s, own Performance Centre. It may also help to stymie talk of a fighters’ union, much like the WWE’s own wellness programme has helped to do so.