UFC sold for $4bn to WME/IMG, marking biggest sale in sporting history

UFC sold for $4bn

The UFC has been sold for $4bn after the company’s owners agreed terms with a group led by WME-IMG.

Majority owners, and brothers, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, who each own 40.5 per cent of the company, reportedly signed the paperwork on Saturday to the new ownership group which consists of WME-IMG, and private equity group MSD. Private equity heavyweights Silver Lake and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts are also understood to have backed the deal.

An official announcement regarding the sale is expected to be made early today (11 July) however a number of details have already been confirmed.

Chief executive, Lorenzo Fertitta, will step down following a transitional period however he will remain a minority owner along with his brother Frank.

Co-chief executives of WME-IMG, Ari Emmanuel & Patrick Whitesell, said they would mobilise all WME-IMG sports and entertainment assets available in its international network to grow the sport.

UFC president and minority owner Dana White stated that he will continue to hold his nine per cent stake in the company and will stay on as president.

White confirmed the sale to ESPN's Brett Okamoto who said in a tweet that he had described the sale as "bittersweet”.

White is close friends with Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta having first met the brothers at the high school they all attended in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Explaining his role with the new ownership White said he would be doing the same job "just doing it without my best friend and partners for 20 years."

He added that fans should not be concerned about the change in ownership which he maintained means the "Sport is going to the next level”.

The $4bn price tag illustrates the huge growth in the popularity of the 23 year-old company which the Ferttita brothers purchased for just $2m in 2001. A number of investors were interested in buying the company including the Dalian Wanda Group.

Recently the UFC has made significant strides to further push the popularity of the sport to portray it in a similar light to the likes of the NFL and NBA.

This has involved a number of sponsorship deals including last year’s $70m kit sponsorship deal with Reebok as well as commercial deals with EA Sports, Bud Light, and Harley Davidson.

The UFC generated a reported $600m in sponsorships last year and will likely continue to significantly increase this thanks to appeal of its high profile athletes in Conor Mcgregor and Ronda Rousey.

The company’s chief brand officer, Garry Cook, admitted that one of the main hurdles in attracting more commercial sponsors to the sport is convincing them that it isn’t barbaric and is rather a “combat sport”.

This led the company to bring on board Olympic anti-doping body USADA to help further legitimise the sport. This was followed up with the company's open ambition to one day soon become an Olympic sport.

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Tony Connelly

I cover media, marketing and sponsorship news within the sports industry. This includes breaking news as well as writing feature pieces with insights from experts in the sports marketing world.

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