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Ain’t no fun when the rabbit’s got the gun: why the Fertittas want to sell the UFC

By Zach Arnold | May 10, 2016

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The rumors of Zuffa selling UFC have been hot and heavy, thanks to reporting from Front Row Brian. Private Equity firm Blackstone has long been thought to be the primary buyer in play.

So it comes as no surprise that Darren Rovell’s ESPN report about Zuffa getting ready to sell UFC has stirred up passionate responses from all corners. Dana White has issued a blanket denial about UFC being for sale but the Fertitta family has stayed silent.

According to Rovell’s report:

It is believed that Jianlin is the leader in the clubhouse. He’s the richest man in Asia at nearly $29 billion dollars. Given his power in China, you could see why buying UFC would be a seductive investment. He would have the political and business clout to clear hurdles in communist China that others do not possess. No Ali Act to worry about outside of America. A favorable legal situation where fighters simply would not have the cash to fight in international courts.

While Dana White has denied UFC being for sale, he did not deny that Goldman Sachs is representing UFC and he did not deny the $200-250M EBITDA figure.

Why would Zuffa want to sell UFC now?

There are lots of reasons for Zuffa wanting to flip UFC soon.

First, the MMA economy is extremely volatile. One year you have a golden goose and the next year you have a goat.

Second, lawfare. The anti-trust lawsuit is producing illuminating discovery. Depositions are coming soon. UFC is vulnerable. The company is also vulnerable to the kinds of concussion-style lawsuits that plagued the NFL. The difference is that the NFL has already settled their pending cases for a relatively small amount of cash.

Third, the business isn’t as fun of a joy ride as it used to be. The Fertittas put up over $40 million dollars before recovering their investment thanks to The Ultimate Fighter. Ownership has put up with thousands of talent-related headaches that they would have never had to put up with in another kind of sporting venture. UFC was a great way for the Fertittas to meet politicians, celebrities, and rich business leaders. They’ve maxed out on that front. They relied on rich people and entities to do their heavy lifting. There are limits to where they stand internationally.

The fourth and most intriguing reason deals with the Fertitta family wanting to shift into other business ventures. A fascinating connect-the-dots scenario:

The Fertittas just did their Red Rock IPO and cashed out big. Now they’re buying out the Palms in Vegas for $312.5 million dollars. But the real main event coming to Las Vegas involves the Oakland Raiders. Sheldon Adelson wants to build a major sports complex. Mark Davis, the son of Al Davis and current Raiders majority owner, is the poorest of the current NFL owners. He’s going to need cash to pull off the move to Las Vegas. Davis has promised to contribute $500 million dollars to the cause.

What’s a better way to get into the elite business inner circle of the NFL than attaching to the Raiders in Las Vegas? Selling off UFC in order to get a piece of the Raiders is a no-brainer business transaction. It would immediately elevate the political and business clout of the Fertitta family and do so in a sport that produces significantly more revenue with fewer headaches than MMA. From the proverbial outhouse to the penthouse.

It is no coincidence that UFC tried to clean up their testosterone scandals with the USADA drug testing program. It is no coincidence that Dana White has taken a back seat publicly. It is no coincidence that fighters have been strapped into the one-size-fits-all Reebok sponsorship model. Cleaning up the loose ends to sell UFC to a private equity firm is the end game. It will be a great Return on Investment for the Fertittas but it does not guarantee an automatically great result for MMA fans:

It won’t be just the folks in Las Vegas popping the champagne corks. The executives at Spike TV will be throwing their own party.

There will be an exit strategy. Only a matter of how it is structured.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

8 Responses to “Ain’t no fun when the rabbit’s got the gun: why the Fertittas want to sell the UFC”

  1. [...] FightOpinion.com notes, Raiders owner Mark Davis has a lot less money than most of his fellow team owners. Davis wants to move the Raiders to Las Vegas, but he will need more cash to pull it off. [...]

  2. Chael's Roided Left Nut says:

    Zach and most of the mma media aren’t going to know what to do, if the Fertitta’s and Dana aren’t around. And especially so, when things go south with the new owners.

  3. jim allcorn says:

    I don’t know what to make of these sales rumors.
    But then, I doubt if ESPN would have led with a story like that if there wasn’t some truth to it. And, of course, the chief mouthpiece Dana White is going to deny, deny, deny. Likely, right up until the check has cleared.
    Of course, from what I’ve been seeing around the web these past two days, there’s a lot of unease as far as we fans are concerned, cause change is so scary.
    The vast majority of MMA fans today can’t even imagine a UFC without Dana & the boys owning/running it. Because it’s all they’ve ever known.
    Hell, I’m one of those oldtimers that has been around since UFC 1 & I’m having a difficult time with the idea. Think I can recall much about the previous owners? Well, I can’t.
    Back then, when Sephamore Entertainment ran the show, it was an adventure as to whether there would even be an event to order & watch, because someone was always trying to shut them down. So, all I can really remember is a lot of interviews with Art Davie regarding the legal wrangling required to keep the shows on & the fights happening in whichever city & state they pitched their tent in.
    So yeah, trying to picture someone else at the helm of the UFC is a bit hard to do. In a way, it almost seems absurd.
    But, new owners could be great for both the UFC & the sport.
    Maybe it will take new ownership to finally see that the writing is one the wall regarding the PPV model. That alone would make me eager to see a buy out.

  4. I bet you’re going to see another 20% chunk carved off with overtures that this will change the game in China. But just like the Abu Dhabi deal, there’ll be a few events that cause headaches and big $$ losses along with general meh-ness in the market they’re trying to break into.

    Main reason: the UFC is a cookie cutter org that only knows how to hold events one way. If they were smart they’d hold UFC events in China with Chinese fighters, let them develop in their own ecosystem without all the prospects getting shitslammed by every cornfed Nebraska wrestler that’s on the way up. But the UFC refuses to allow any variation in the way its events are held. For Abu Dhabi and the Australian stadium, both shows looked exactly the same apart from maybe 30 seconds showing the different set up. They’re locked in, it’s paint by numbers, and fighters are lost in the cookie cutter process.

  5. rst says:

    On the one hand, MMA is established and would continue without zuffa and dana. But on the other hand, corporate meddling can strip the soul from a thing, like disney did to marel. I’m okay with it. If they sell it to disney we’ve still got history on tape and MMA would rise again by its own attributes.

  6. DIAZ'S PACKED BOWL says:

    I would exclude china as buyer since ONE championships is the Asian show already and could be bought for a fraction of the ufcs price.

    Blackstone has no reason to buy it, since they seem to be more of a real estate investment group, and ufc would not pay off for a while if they make $200,000,000 x 20 years =$4,000,000,000.

    UFC has a lot of value to the morris agency. Including cross promotion across the board, and using the ufc to promote more military invasions around the world. Using ufc to promote war has always been a top priority for them and Morris which is run by Ari brother of Rahm the corrupt Chicago governor, both of whom are sons of the Irguns Israeli terrorist leader responsible for the King David hotel bombing(among others)during a zionist terrorist campaign to gain control of Palestinian land. So with the frattatas being sons of criminals selling to another criminal brotherhood seems like a good fit.

  7. Safari_Punch says:

    I don’t understand why the UFC would be attractive to buy when you consider:

    1) Business isn’t as good Stateside as it was during their boom period
    2) The company is being sued for unfair labor practices by their former employees which could change contracts/payouts in the future if the fighters were to win their case

    There are two more years on the FOX deal. With the changing landscape of broadcast media I’d think the asking price for a company on shaky ground would be a lot less than that figure that is being floated out there.

    Also, the “richest man in China” still has to answer to the Chinese government. He would own 49 percent of anything that he has with the Chinese government making the final call on everything.

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