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UFC eyeing growth areas after posting record 2021

By Adam Stern

After breaking financial records this year across every key performance indicator, what’s next for the UFC?

From the far-out — the metaverse — to the traditional — sponsorship sales — UFC executives and parent company Endeavor are poised to keep the momentum going in 2022.

“It’s definitely more of the same for sure in 2022,” said UFC COO Lawrence Epstein.

Fighters such as Kamaru Usman have UFC looking at possible events in Africa.getty images

UFC is wrapping up a year that saw records in EBITDA and average/aggregate pay-per-view sales, with President Dana White telling “The Jim Rome Show” that the total figure is expected to nestle around 8.4 to 8.5 million units. Crucially amid the direct-to-consumer trend, Disney and ESPN executives are impressed by how many ESPN+ subscriber signups the UFC drove in the process. Now the property will look to unlock more value with Disney.

The UFC and Endeavor believe there’s still plenty of sponsorships to sell on top of the recent big wins. New or renewed UFC partners this year included a major partnership with Crypto.com and extensions with Modelo and Monster Energy.

Epstein said the UFC still has several important holes left to fill, including a full-time insurance partner and a quick-service restaurant partner. He also noted that the UFC is creating new digital inventory to sell around; for example, the fighting series recently trademarked White’s “F--- It Friday” video series, where he eats wild concoctions of food. The trademark filing suggested a broader plan by the UFC to launch digital businesses related to food, celebrities, entertainment and pop culture.

Andrew Schleimer, UFC executive vice president and chief financial officer, pointed to international as another key growth area, particularly with the help of Endeavor, which has offices throughout the world.

Schleimer pointed to Africa as among the areas that are most ripe for growth, in part because the league has three champions with ties to the continent in Kamaru Usman (Nigerian American), Israel Adesanya (Nigerian New Zealander) and Francis Ngannou (Cameroonian). He said the UFC has been exploring where to hold events on the continent and has been talking to entities that already have experience there, including the NBA, so it can learn more.

The UFC is ending the year with eight straight sellouts of pay-per-view events, and Schleimer is hoping that the UFC will be traveling to more cities in the U.S. to hold events in 2022 after the pandemic restricted their options this year.

“There are obviously opportunities around the U.S. to continue to put on live events,” Schleimer said. “We are continuing to take our circus around the U.S. and want to start doing more international events next year. With COVID limitations hopefully loosening up a bit, we look forward to getting on the road in a prominent way in ’22 for sure.”

Finally, Endeavor has been pushing UFC executives to get the fighting series into the metaverse and make deeper inroads into the new-age crypto and digital transformation areas.

“It’s something that [Endeavor CEO] Ari Emanuel is beating us over the head about every day,” Epstein said. “We’re working on a bunch of different plans for the metaverse, and it’s a priority for sure.”

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