WASHINGTON — Fresh off of a successful UFC 200 pay per view event, the Ultimate Fighting Championship company has reportedly been bought by WME-IMG and MSD capital for $4 billion.
The story was originally run by Darren Rovell of ESPN in May, but has been vehemently denied by UFC President Dana White ever since. Now, according to the New York Times, the deal is official:
The deal is the largest in the history of sports, and marks the latest victory for the 23-year-old mixed martial arts company. Going into UFC 200, the international brand could claim broadcasts to 156 counties, in 29 different languages, with 1.1 billion households receiving UFC programming.
That last number has nearly tripled since UFC 100 in 2009.
The last time the UFC sold, to principle owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, was in 2000 for $2 million. Their return on investment was 2000 percent. Revenue from 2015 alone totaled approximately $600 million
The last time the company commented on sale rumors was last week, when White, a minority owner, told the media: “We own the UFC. We did not sell the UFC.” The New York Times reports that the deal was signed over the weekend.
Part of the UFC’s success can be tied to its appeal among younger generations, funneling interest and dollars away from sports like boxing and football. The average UFC fan is estimated to be 37.8 years old, with nearly 45 percent of the fan base falling in the millennial generation.
One major appeal of UFC from an investment standpoint is the Fight Pass streaming service, which is now available in 180 countries after launching in 2013. The company provides nearly 2,000 hours of programming each year, including 42 UFC events, up from 28 in 2009.
In May, ESPN reported that four groups of investors were bidding for the company. The front runner group was thought to be Chinese-based conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group. Its chairman, Wang Jianlin, is worth nearly $35 billion, making him the richest man in China.
White vigorously denied reports of negotiations at the time, telling the Dan Patrick Show: “I’ve been saying since this thing came out: No, we’re not for sale. But let me tell you what: If somebody shows up with $4 billion, we can talk. We can definitely talk.”