The UFC has been working hard and smart to get regulated in Ontario so they can do a show in Toronto. Ontario has long been one of the best markets for the UFC's on Pay Per View but a perverse regulation regime that doggedly kept MMA out of Ontario for year. That is until the UFC hired former Canadian Football League commissioner Tom Wright to head up their regulatory attack in Canada in May of this year. Sanctioning followed in August and now the UFC is going to make a lot of Canadian fans very happy.
MMA Weekly reports on Zuffa's sky high expectations for their Toronto debut at the 68,000 capacity Rogers Centre:
No matter what the final configuration for the Rogers Centre is - and no, the dome isn't likely to be open in late April - the UFC is confident of smashing UFC 124′s record attendance.
"We've talked about the 30,000 to 40,000 range. Whatever it is, we're going to set a record here in terms of turnstile attendance," said Wright. "I can tell you it will be north of 25,000 and probably south of 40,000."
UFC 129 isn't the only upcoming event that has pulses pounding with anticipation in Zuffa's business offices either. Here's some exciting news for the UFC's return to Australia for UFC 127, via the CBC:
UFC 127 in Sydney sold out in 30 minutes, equalling the UFC record set earlier this year by UFC 115 in Vancouver.
The speed of the 127 sales means that two of the UFC's top five sellouts are in Australia (UFC 110 ranks No. 4). The other three are all in Canada: UFC 115 in Vancouver and UFC 83 and 97 in Montreal.
Marshall Zelaznik, UFC major domo for international expansion said in a statement that he expected "just over 18,000 fans in attendance" and he characterized Australia as "one of the top three or four markets in the world" for the UFC.
But it's not all good news. More in the full entry.
That's great news but let's keep in mind that a quick sell out doesn't always mean big demand for tickets. UFC 115, the previous quickest sell-out, turned out to not be as in-demand as initially believed, via MMA Payout:
UFC 115 sold over $4.2 million at the gate on approximately 17,000 fans, which is very strong (especially for a non-title fight). However, it's been widely speculated that the 30 minute sell-out this Spring was manufactured by scalpers that bought huge quantities of tickets anticipating strong demand for the UFC's debut in Vancouver. Thus, while the demand for MMA in Vancouver is strong, the gate probably isn't a sound reflection of the interest for this fight in particular.
There were sky high expectations for the UFC 124 gate in Montreal as well, but MMA Payout reports that it didn't quite deliver as hoped:
The UFC pushed the media all week with the message that UFC 124 was going to have the biggest attendance and live gate in UFC history, but sadly only one of those came true. The official attendance set a new record with 23, 152 people cramming The Bell Centre in Montreal. However, the official gate slightly underperformed at $4. 586 million. It should be noted that $4.6 million is still an excellent gate (my how far this sport has come to look at things and say a gate like that actually underperformed!).
The Bell Centre was pretty much packed. There were a few empty seats, which wasn't the case for St. Pierre vs. Serra, where they announced 21,340 fans. They said they reconfigured the arena and changes screens, but there were empty seats this time, there was no standing room, and it sure didn't look like there were 1,800 more people in the building. Dana White was giving away tickets in the city the night before the fight. We didn't get a paid number, but were told it was in the range of 18,500 and the gate was $4,568,000 Canadian, which with the current exchange rates, would be $4,603,000 U.S. White had claimed it would break the all-time world record gate, but that figure is more than $7 million in Japan (Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Mirko Cro Cop), and even the UFC record of $5.44 million set at UFC 100 was never in jeopardy. It was the sixth largest in UFC history (trailing main events of Liddell vs. Ortiz, Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva, St. Pierre vs. Serra, Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar, Liddell vs. Shogun Rua (or Anderson Silva vs. Thales Leitis) and Lesnar vs. Frank Mir), and largest since UFC 100. It was not a hot scalper ticket as outside the arena you could get $250 to $400 tickets for $50 each.
The moral of the story continues to be that the UFC continues to do great business, particularly with their expansions into Australia and Canada but that the days of the UFC routinely exceeding expectations are at an end.
That's partly a product of the terrible world-wide economy, partly a result of the growth rate of the UFC slowing a bit, and partly a function of ticket prices remaining a little bit higher than might be optimum for maximum sales and revenue.
Also keep in mind that while Toronto and Ontario are major markets in the context of North America, Canada as a whole is a much much smaller market than the U.S. and Australia is a very small market. For the UFC's international expansion to really pay big dividends they must succeed in Europe.