UFC’s $4-billion sale to WME-IMG said to ‘ensure sport’s success on a global scale’

UFC President Dana White stands between fighters Brock Lesnar, left, and Mark Hunt during their weigh-in for UFC 200 on July 8.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

The $4-billion sale of the UFC to Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG was made official Monday.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes,” WME-IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell said in a prepared statement.

“It’s been exciting to watch the organization’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 Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother, Frank, purchased the company in 2000 for $2 million and grew it from a no-holds-barred niche sport into an empire. Mixed martial arts is now regulated in all 50 states, with a New York debut coming in November, while UFC stages worldwide events and counts Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor as mainstream sports stars.

The Fertittas will retain a “passive minority interest” in the company, Beverly Hills-based WME-IMG said.

WME-IMG has aggressively pushed to expand its digital media muscle. The company also represents Rousey.

“As far as the business goes, our goal was to always take this sport to the next level, and Ari and WME-IMG are the guys to take it from here,” UFC President Dana White told The Times late Sunday night.

White cashed out a undisclosed sum for his percentage of the company, then repurchased an undisclosed percentage with WME-IMG and told The Times he will serve as “president, owner and day-to-day [promoter]” for the new ownership group.


White said “nothing will change” regarding his promotional style.

In announcing the deal, WME-IMG revealed Silver Lake Partners and KKR will join it as “new strategic investors,” along with MSD Capital, L.P. and MSD Partners, L.P., which will provide preferred equity financing.

“WME-IMG, which has a proven track record of building leading sports brands, will focus on accelerating the sport’s popularity and presence around the world,” according to the statement.

UFC marked UFC 200 at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, generating a company-record live gate of $10.7 million. It produces more than 40 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world, with broadcasts in more than 156 countries and territories to nearly 1.1 billion television households worldwide, in 29 different languages, according to the statement.

“We’re confident that the new ownership team of WME-IMG, with whom we’ve built a strong relationship over the last several years, is committed to accelerating UFC’s global growth,” Lorenzo Fertitta said in the statement. “Most importantly, our new owners share the same vision and passion for this organization and its athletes.”

The deal separates the passionate White from his calm-headed close friend and chairman, something White said tugged at him all weekend, when the deal was finalized.

“Lorenzo was worth $1.5 billion and there were many times he’d put in longer hours than his staff in our offices,” White said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t emotional, a little bummed out.”


What Fertitta, whose family operates the Station Casino business in Las Vegas, will do by cashing out is yet to be seen. Possibilities include his interest in participating in ownership should an NFL team move to Las Vegas, or expanding his casino/Las Vegas building empire.

“Lorenzo, for now, is going to chill, spend time with his family,” White said.

Fertitta relinquishes control to a company that “produces more than 52,000 hours of sports programming and arranges to distribute an additional 32,000 hours on behalf of more than 200 clients, including major sports leagues and associations like Wimbledon, the NFL, Premier League, Major League Soccer and Euroleague,” the statement said.

WME-IMG purchased Professional Bull Riders last year. The statement noted that the “PBR … has broken 10 event attendance records and increased television viewership over 20% in 2016.”


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