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Zuffa Finances: The economics of a UFC event

A look at what the UFC makes and spends on their events

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Recently I posted an article detailing what we now know about the UFC’s finances. While it hopefully offered readers a large amount of new details, it was still limited to the annual totals. Aggregate amounts were not to be found. That’s the purpose of this article, to give a brief overview of the UFC’s finances at the event level.

Again, I’ve depended heavily on recently filed exhibits and reports from the UFC antitrust lawsuit (Le et al vs. Zuffa, LLC). My first table reprints information from the redacted Second Expert Report of Hal J. Singer, giving us a breakdown of the average promotional, production, other, and fighter costs for a Zuffa events by year. Zuffa includes the UFC, as well as the WEC and Strikeforce following their acquisitions, up until their closure.

A couple notes:

Costs are in 2016 dollars, deflated using CPI-U.

I excluded an additional column that Singer had in his original table, titled Singer Promotion Costs, since this included expenses unrelated to the PPV, TV, or Live Events.

For Zuffa Event Promotional Costs Singer says he includes such line items from Zuffa’s P&Ls related to advertising, marketing or promotion of events, PPVs, broadcasts, tickets, or venues.

For Zuffa Event Production Costs Singer writes they were taken from the “PPV Expenses”, “Live/Tape Delay TV Expenses”, “Content Expense”, and “Live Event Expense” sections of Zuffa’s P&L’s.

For Zuffa Fighter Event Costs Singer says he included all items related to athlete compensation, including Athlete Adjustments, Fighter Bonuses for Discretionary, Fight of the Night, PPV, or signing, Athlete Purse - LOA, Fighter Purse - Show, and Fighter Purse-Win.

Zuffa average cost per event by year

Year Event Promotional Costs Event Production Costs Other Event Costs Total Non Fighter Costs Fighter Event Costs
Year Event Promotional Costs Event Production Costs Other Event Costs Total Non Fighter Costs Fighter Event Costs
2008 $614,358 $1,817,173 $694,789 $3,126,320 $1,969,714
2009 $651,786 $1,842,471 $745,671 $3,239,928 $2,216,494
2010 $837,187 $1,875,276 $811,427 $3,523,889 $2,682,377
2011 $621,714 $1,563,525 $810,146 $2,995,385 $2,085,625
2012 $1,061,282 $2,639,942 $1,001,358 $4,702,582 $1,892,604
2013 $1,329,556 $2,381,064 $1,114,752 $4,825,372 $2,608,992

Using these costs, along with the total event revenues that were shown during Andrew Zimbalist’s hearing, I made another table that showed the average event costs and revenues in nominal dollars.

Zuffa Expenses and Revenue Per Event Average

Year Average Event Expenses Total Event Revenue Number of Events Average Event Revenue
Year Average Event Expenses Total Event Revenue Number of Events Average Event Revenue
2008 3.7 258.8 26 10
2009 4.9 305.4 29 10.5
2010 5.6 407.8 32 12.7
2011 4.8 408.9 38 10.8
2012 6.3 401.5 36 11.2
2013 7.2 482.2 34 14.2
All amounts in Millions (000,000s) of Nominal US Dollars $

From 2008-2012 Zuffa saw growth in both their revenues and costs. Total event revenues saw a 11.6% CAGR over the period, while average event revenue grew in total only 12% versus 70% growth in event expenses. Even with these increased costs, they were still only 56% of revenues in 2012. And with the nearly 40% increase in events from 2008 to 2012, gross income has still increased, even with somewhat less profitable shows.

During Zuffa's expert witness, Dr. Robert Topel's, hearing a slide was shown of an unredacted page of one of his reports. The page showed a breakdown of several UFC eventsfrom 2011 and 2016. I've recreated the data shown here:

UFC event level costs

Event Date Event Costs (Excluding Compensation) Event Revenue Fighter Expenses
Event Date Event Costs (Excluding Compensation) Event Revenue Fighter Expenses
UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones Mar 21, 2010 $1,191,054 $2,992,794 $983,500
UFC 111 Mar 27, 2919 $6,000,085 $28,097,645 $3,760,751
UFN: Florian vs. Gomi Mar 31, 2010 $1,210,933 $3,080,893 $722,500
UFN: dos Anjos vs Alvarez July 7, 2016 $1,595,901 $3,048,611 $1,912,750
UFC 200 Jul 9, 2016 $12,848,217 $55,279,396 $19,905,008
Source: Exhibit 5 from Topel’s Reply to the Supplemental Expert Report of Singer in Le, et al v. Zuffa, LLC

As can be seen there is a wide disparity between individual events when it comes to costs and revenues, especially between the television broadcast events and the mega PPVs. For example, event costs, including fighter compensation, totaled almost 73% of all the revenue that the UFC Live: Vera vs Jones event generated (fighter compensation by itself was 33% of revenues). For the Ultimate Fight Night: Florian vs Gomi, event costs were 63% of revenue (fighter compensation was 23%), while for Ultimate Fight Night: dos Anjos vs Alvarez, expenses were 115% of revenue (63% for fighter compensation, which included a lightweight title fight.)

These 3 events each averaged around $3 million in revenue, a small fraction compared to the two ppvs that were presented. For UFC 111, the UFC generated almost $28.1 million in revenue (one of five events in 2010 that apparently had generated $25 million or more in revenues), while their total expenses was approximately $9.8 million or about 35% of its revenues. For an event that included a welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierte and Dan Hardy, and a heavyweight interim title fight between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin, fighter compensation was only 13% of revenues.

UFC 200 was even bigger for the UFC, generating almost $55.3 million in revenue, while total expenses were $32.7 million, or 59% of revenues. Fighter compensation, which was highlighted in the WME's Project Basquiat as being exceptionally high thanks to Brock Lesnar's costs and an "overly stacked" lineup, was 36% of revenues.

For those interested in comparing the reported payouts with Zuffa's internal payouts, we have the following commission reported payouts (including publicy announced bonuses):

UFC Live: Jones vs Vers =$913,000

UFN: dos Anjos vs Alvarez = $1,339,000

UFC 200 = $7,179,000

This means that for the a non-title, Versus Network event, only $70,500 of the athletes compensation was not publicly disclosed, while for the Fight Pass broadcast event that included a lightweight title fight, $573,750 of fighter compensation was undisclosed. Both of these events pale in comparison to UFC 200, where almost $12.8 million was undisclosed.

Unfortunately, we do not have access to any more recent events. But with the higher broadcast license fees, and cost saving measures Endeavor is supposed to have undertaken following the purchase, one can only assume that the ratio of revenue to expenses has only grown larger.

For my next post, I'll be looking at the UFCs PPV sales.

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