The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) comes crashing into the mainstream next week when its TV network deal in the US kicks into life and, while US revenues remain the UFC’s lifeblood, chief executive Lorenzo Fertitta is banking on global growth to secure the long-term future of the organization.
In an interview at the UFC’s headquarters in Las Vegas, Fertitta said the mixed martial arts (MMA) titan would be heading to Macau next year and Singapore in 2013 as it bids to build its brand across Asia.
“We’ve really been doing a lot of work in China and that’s going to be a longer-term investment, but we are going to dip our toe in the water with an event in Macau,” Fertitta said.
“Singapore is another market that we have been focusing on. We know it’s a growing market ... so a UFC event there probably in 2013,” he said, adding that the Marina Bay Sands casino-resort was being eyed as the venue.
Once banished to broadcasting backwaters, the UFC now beams to more than 130 countries worldwide, while the seven-year multimedia deal with Fox signed in August will net it between US$90 million and US$100 million in rights annually.
While Fertitta rates the 55,000 person sellout at Toronto’s Rogers Centre and their Rio de Janeiro debut this year as the UFC’s most successful international events, he said Asia had the potential to deliver similar success.
“Our goal is to have revenues split 50-50 between North America and the rest of the world in the next five years,” he said. “We have explosive growth in Brazil and that has now become our number three market, but we are looking to Asia to have that same explosive growth.”
Cracking China’s complicated market could prove difficult, despite the country’s long history of martial arts.
However, China’s interest in the NBA skyrocketed with the rise of Yao Ming and the UFC would undoubtedly get a shot in the arm if a Chinese fighter emerged to challenge for titles.
“In China I think that is going to be the spark that we need to move that market,” Fertitta said, adding that the UFC was working to foster talent there.
“One of the things we’re doing is bringing a handful of Chinese fighters over here for a month to train in Las Vegas, giving them access to the gyms and other resources here,” he said.
“Among a population of a billion people there’s got to be someone that can fight,” he added. “And it’s our job to find him.”