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Fighter pay details revealed during Monday’s UFC antitrust hearing

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John Nash was on-site at the first day of of hearings at the UFC antitrust lawsuit.

Show Money, UFC Financials, UFC Business, UFC Antitrust Hearings, June M. Williams

The first day of a week of hearings in the Le v. Zuffa class action, antitrust lawsuit is a wrap. For analyst of the days events I recommend Paul Gift’s write up on Forbes and our special Show Money podcast live from Las Vegas, where we gave our impressions on what transpired in court. For this post I am going to share some of the financial information that was revealed during the day.

(DAY 1 HEARING COVERAGE):

There was some question heading into today as to what would be allowed to be shown to the public in attendance, but Judge Boulware made it immediately clear when addressing objections from Top Rank, Bellator, and Zuffa attorneys. As long as it wasn’t specific fighter information he was inclined to let it be unsealed during the proceedings. So what we got to see was a series of slides that revealed the UFC’s total fighter compensation, fighter share of revenue, as well as Strikeforce and Bellator’s wage share levels.

(DAY 2 HEARING COVERAGE):

According to the Plaintiff’s expert witness, Prof. Hal Singer, Zuffa’s own internal documents showed that the total share of revenue going to fighters was 26% in 2007, that dipped to low 20s for the next few years, then dipped again after 2011 to around 19% where it has hovered since. The Plaintiff’s lead attorney, Eric Cramer, then put up a series of internal UFC graphs, a pair of which looked to have been attached to 2013 emails from former UFC COO John Mulkey, showing the wage share by year. The first graph showed “Fighter Comp as % of UFC Event Revenue” and had the following numbers for each year:

2001: 0%

2002: 0%

2003: 0%

2004: 24.18%

2005: 13.87%

2006: 20.31%

2007: 25.85%

2008: 20.48%

2009: 21.83%

2010: 22.00%

2011: 18.45%

2012: 18.64%

LTM as of Q2 2013: 20.10%

2013E: 19.77% (Obviously 0% for the first three years can not be accurate, but there was no indication given as to why those years showed 0%.)

The second graph was titled “Fighter Comp as % of PPV Event Revenues” and gave the following percentages by year:

2001: 41.23%

2002: 40.82%

2003: 41.03%

2004: 23.48%

2005: 10.27%

2006: 17.31%

2007: 23.34%

2008: 18.49%

2009: 19.55%

2010: 20.89%

2011: 17.42%

2012: 15.93%

LTM as of Q2 2013: 17.23%2013E: 16.34%

Singer confirmed what these two graphs seemed to reveal: that fighter’s received a smaller share of the revenue from UFC PPV events than they did from non PPV events.

As a comparison to the UFC, both Bellator and pre-acquisition Strikeforce’s wage share levels were also show. For Bellator it was 44.7%, while for Strikeforce it was 63%.

During the hearing it was also revealed that during the class period (December 16, 2010 through June 30, 2017) Zuffa fighters were paid a total of $626 million.

Another slide also showed showed a page from an internal UFC document, this one apparently prepared just after the sale in 2016, revealing the total amount and share of revenue paid to UFC fighters by year. It also included projections for the full 2016 and then the next 4 years.

2012: $71 million (16%)

2013: $91 million (18%)

2014: $72 million (16%)

2015: $113 million (19%)

2016E: $135 million (20%)

2017E: $147 million (20%)

2018E: $160 million (20%)

2019E: $188 million (20%)

2020E: $196 million (20%)

The same page had a heading titled “Risk of Fighter Compensation Inflation” with the following text: “Fighter Comp was the most asked question by financing sources, and is a critical cost that we must actively manage. We believe our long-term 20% of revenue assumption is reasonable.” This was followed by a Summary with a series of bullet points.

* Historically fighters have earned 16-19% of revenues, although 2016 is projected by the UFC at 22.7%, largely driven by the one-time Brock cost and overly stacked UFC 200.