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Endeavor is bringing back live sports this weekend; can UFC follow?

UFC wanted to be the “first sport back,” but their sister-company will beat them to the punch.

PBR Monster Energy Tour - Quebec City Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images

After UFC 249’s April plans got scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dana White was dead set and repeatedly made promises that they’ll be the “first event back.” A couple of weeks later, and it looks like their sister company will be beating them to the punch.

As announced by the company, the Endeavor-owned Professional Bull Riders (PBR) will be returning this weekend with events on April 25 and 26. They originally had a back up plan of hosting a show in Florida — like the UFC’s reported plans — but ended up getting government approval to continue with a live TV event inside the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

“We’ve approached this with a detailed, thoughtful and intelligent plan that took into consideration any and all interactions among our constituents,” Gleason said on the announcement. “We developed a comprehensive safety and wellness plan that has been reviewed and approved by city of Guthrie, Logan County, and Oklahoma state officials.”

PBR CEO Sean Gleason said they will have “approximately 132 people” to produce the event, and earlier shared some of the safety measures they will be implementing on the closed-door event.

“We’re just going to do as much as we possibly can to make sure we minimize the risk of transmitting COVID,” Gleason said. “We’ve closed off all the exits. When they get here, they’re medically screened. We take their temperature. We are also issuing to everybody protective gear. They’ll get plenty of gloves.”

PBR will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network on Saturday and Sunday, and will be a welcome return for the struggling Endeavor. The UFC and PBR’s parent company has had worsening financial problems during this pandemic, and with layoffs, furloughs, and paycuts reportedly affecting thousands, in about a third of their employees.

Variety also reports that these cuts won’t likely be enough so solve their financial woes. They report that UFC could be their only viable option during this pandemic, and could likely sell off their other properties.

There are only so many staff cuts that can be made. If the pandemic continues, the pressure will grow for Emanuel to begin to sell off some of the acquired assets. With the market depressed, it is likely that these won’t be at the price paid for them. There are few alternatives for the company.

Many of the acquisitions over the years are not worth the price Endeavor paid for them, given they range across industries shut down by the virus. The one that could possibly return Endeavor’s investment is UFC, one of the only businesses that may still be able to operate and generate revenue.

PBR starting back up could help Endeavor a bit, but their true cash cow is the UFC and that reported $750 million contracts they’re trying to fulfill. Getting combat sports sanctioned is more complicated than bull riding, but if the UFC can push through and start back up with their May 9 target, it could be crucial for both the MMA world leader and their parent company in Endeavor.