Editorial: UFC 205 Topped a Record 2016, But 2017 Won’t be as Rosy

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Conor McGregor
Image Credit: AP Photo/John Locher

UFC’s official statement released on Monday confirms the magnitude which the McGregor-headlined UFC 205 had on revenue in 2016, but 2017 looks destined to pale in comparison. 

The promotion’s first event in New York since the overturning of a ban on MMA generated $37.4 million, according to Applied Analysis’ study which was released on Monday. A live gate record for Madison Square Garden preceded record pay-per-view (PPV) buys for the promotion.

$18.3 million was the number attributed to salaries and wages for New York employees, with approximately 300 jobs supported as a result of the event. Taxes estimated at just under $1.6 million were generated by ticket sales, merchandise sales and overall pay-per-views for the event.

“Mixed martial arts competitions have already proven to be major economic drivers across New York, and the jobs and revenue generated by this event illustrates the enormous impact of this growing industry in our state,” said Governor Cuomo. “I look forward to seeing the further growth of this sport continue to foster economic activity, help create jobs, and further establish New York as an international entertainment hub.”

UFC 205 was expected to be a massive draw. Three title fights headlined by the promotion’s superstar Conor McGregor in a lightweight title fight against champion Eddie Alvarez would have been enough. ‘The Notorious’ is the UFC’s cash cow in chief, and his PPV headlined-events sell regardless to a title being on the line (see the Nate Diaz fights). Fans had the added bonus of a shot at witnessing UFC history due to the Irishman’s bid to become the first ever fighter to hold two world titles simultaneously, and the live gate of $17.7 million at MSG was a testament to both the power of the Dubliner, and the novelty of the event. These were the largest numbers in UFC history, and the highest for any sporting event at ‘the Garden.

A total attendance of 20,427 was clocked for the fights, with an incredible 15,480 for the weigh-ins which came a day before. It is fair to say that UFC records were smashed:

“We said it from the very beginning, we knew New York was going to be huge,” UFC president Dana White said. “It was a dream come true for the athletes, for the fans, and for our company to host a UFC event in ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena.’ The numbers don’t lie, a lot of people came out to support us and we’re going to keep doing this up and down the state.”

UFC Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Ike Lawrence Epstein added:

“This record-setting event would not have been possible without the tremendous support from Governor Andrew Cuomo, Speaker Carl Heastie, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, Senator Joe Griffo and many others from across the state,”  “We look forward to hosting many more historic events throughout the state of New York, including UFC 208 on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and UFC 210 on Saturday, April 8 in Buffalo.”

While 2016 was huge in terms of financial generation for the promotion, forecasts predict that 2017 will pale in comparison. McGregor headlined events, for example, brought in more PPV buys in 2016 than the entire roster combined could in 2014. Quite a feat. The lightweight champion’s hiatus will likely take up most of 2017. This, coupled with an uncertainty surrounding a return to the octagon, means that the UFC will be unable to rely on his appeal to draw viewers for the first three financial quarters. 2016 had UFC 200, which featured big draw Brock Lesnar, and also UFC 206 which saw the return of female superstar Ronda Rousey.

The lightweight champion’s hiatus (which will take up most of 2017), coupled with an uncertainty surrounding a return to the octagon, means that the UFC will be unable to rely on his appeal to draw viewers for the first three financial quarters. Aside from McGregor fights in general and UFC 205, 2016 had UFC 200, which featured a return of the popular Brock Lesnar, and also UFC 206 which saw the return of female superstar Ronda Rousey.

Despite the impressive numbers included in the UFC’s report, UFC 208 in Brooklyn, N.Y on Saturday was rumored to have performed poorly in terms of gate receipts, and certainly in terms of secondary ticket sales. If 2017 as a year is to compete in any way with the preceding year, the promotion will need big fights and superstars to fill them.

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