The UFC broke a record in 2015, raking in about $600 million in revenue—a new high mark for the promotion.
Lorenzo Fertitta, CEO of UFC parent company Zuffa, discussed the UFC's normally private revenue figures in an interview with CNN Money's Rachel Crane published Monday (h/t Jesse Holland and Adam Guillen Jr. of MMA Mania).
Fertitta pointed to the UFC's different broadcasting "platforms" as the primary driver behind the big number:
Because we are a private company, we don’t get into profitability, but we’ll generate about $600 million in revenue for the year 2015, which is a record for the company, and it’s fairly significant growth coming off of 2014. The exciting part of the platform that we've built is that we've been able to embrace different tiers of revenue. We have our basic pay-per-view business, that is our biggest source of revenue. Then we have our media rights, which is really similar to rights that we sell to FOX for all of the programming we give them. And then we have embraced the over-the-top platforms, where we launched UFC Fight Pass.
It has undoubtedly been a watershed year for MMA's major league, and several factors appear to have played a role.
In an actual fighting context, the rise and shocking fall of women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey galvanized hardcore and casual cage-fighting fans alike, as well as audience segments less accustomed to mixed martial arts. Irishman Conor McGregor became a bona-fide star in the sport, as well as the UFC's undisputed featherweight champion.
UFC 193, the event at which Rousey lost to Holly Holm, reportedly topped 1 million pay-per-view buys, per MMA Fighting (h/t MMA Weekly).
UFC 189, in which McGregor defeated Chad Mendes to become the interim featherweight champ, reportedly drew in 825,000 buys, according to MMA Payout.
Buy estimates for UFC 194, in which McGregor defeated Aldo for the undisputed title, have not yet been published but were almost certainly very high. The UFC does not release exact buy numbers to the public.
Outside the cage, the UFC in July began its apparel partnership with Reebok. Though the exact value of the deal is fuzzy, initial reports put the number at $70 million over the six-year life of the deal.
Despite the windfall, concerns persist among fighters and managers that UFC athletes are not fairly compensated for their work. Entry-level fighter pay tends to average around $10,000 to show up, about $10,000 for a victory and $2,500 from the Reebok sponsorship deal. Fighters are required to wear Reebok apparel in the cage, and they are banned from striking those kinds of deals with other companies.
In the CNN interview, Fertitta defended fighter pay, pointing to the high pay levels of the UFC's top competitors:
The fact of the matter is, our top athletes are making mutli-millions of dollars. And what is happening is as the sport grows and compensation goes up and revenue goes up, you're starting to see that the guys and girls at the top are commanding a larger share of that pie. I think you see that in every sport, every business. It's the athletes who make a difference that people want to pay for that are commanding the big dollars.
Lorenzo Fertitta owns 40.5 percent of Zuffa, while his brother, Frank, owns another 40.5 percent. UFC President Dana White owns nine percent of the company. Flash Entertainment, a live events company based in the United Arab Emirates, owns 10 percent of the company.