The days of Conan O’Brien and Marky Mark as minority investors in the UFC may almost be up.
Last July the UFC sold to a consortium of investors led by talent agency WME-IMG for an impressive $4.3 billion dollars. Since then the promotion has had a rough year, with Conor McGregor off fighting Floyd Mayweather in boxing and Ronda Rousey flubbing a comeback and disappearing off into the sunset. To make matters worse, the crazy price tag the UFC sold for and the fact that UFC president Dana White pocketed over $300 million from it has also caused a medium scale fighter insurrection, with many of the company’s bigger athletes playing hardball with every fight negotiation.
Pay-per-view numbers and ratings have been looking so bad that some were starting to worry whether WME-IMG could keep up on the payments they owed for the UFC purchase. But I always figured a company connected so closely to the big money investors of the world would never have issues pulling together more capital, and that’s exactly what they’ve just done to the tune of $1.1 billion. The money is coming from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Government of Singapore Investment Fund, both of which are already investors in Silver Lake, a Silicon Valley based private equity firm that is deeply intertwined with WME-IMG.
Silver Lake announced the investment in a letter to investors earlier this week, explaining it would allow them to buy out unspecified minority partners in the UFC. One interesting detail regarding the combat sport company’s sale is that it involved 23 A-list celebrities getting small chunks of the UFC. The list included Conan O’Brien, Serena Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Sylvester Stallone and Ben Affleck amongst others. Maybe they’re the ones getting bought out? Or perhaps Silver Lake is talking about the government of Abu Dhabi, which bought 10% of the company back in 2010.
Whatever the case, that extra money shows that WME-IMG is committed to their new business and buying in even more. Of course, what meaty investment like this would be complete without some money put aside so WME-IMG senior management and employees can cash out? As always, it’s good to be anywhere near big money deals like this. It sounds like everyone involved is getting a lot more money … except the fighters of course, who are still working on getting a bigger chunk of the pie.
UFC 214 just went down in Las Vegas, generating an estimated $80 million dollars. The disclosed paychecks of headliners Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier? $500k and a million dollars respectively, although undisclosed pay-per-view bonuses probably have Jones making upwards of $5 million and Cormier $2 million. That’s still pretty small compared to the slice garnered by top boxing stars, one of the reasons Conor McGregor took a break from the UFC to fight Floyd Mayweather for an estimated $100 million payday.