UFC has been sold for $4 billion in a deal announced Monday.
Talent agency WME-IMG revealed that it is partnering with its owner Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and MSD Capital, the investment firm of Michael Dell, to take over the mixed martial arts company.
"We've been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes," WME-IMG co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell said in a statement. "It's been exciting to watch the organization's incredible growth over the last decade under the leadership of the Fertitta brothers, Dana White and their dedicated team. We're now committed to pursuing new opportunities for UFC and its talented athletes to ensure the sport's continued growth and success on a global scale."
At $4 billion, it stands to be the most expensive transaction for an organization in sports history.
Reached Sunday night by ESPN, UFC president Dana White, who had adamantly denied the organization was for sale for the past two months after ESPN had reported that it was on the auction block, said the sale was bittersweet.
He said fans should not be concerned about the change in ownership.
"Exact opposite," White said. "Sport is going to the next level.
The sale is remarkable considering that brothers Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta bought the organization in 2000 for $2 million.
The price paid for UFC is roughly seven times its gross revenue, as chairman Lorenzo Fertitta told CNN that the organization took in about $600 million in 2015.
"We're confident that the new ownership team of WME-IMG, with whom we've built a strong relationship over the last several years, is committed to accelerating UFC's global growth," Fertitta said in a statement. "Most importantly, our new owners share the same vision and passion for this organization and its athletes."
Fertitta will step down as part of the deal, although the brothers will retain a minority interest. White, who owned 9 percent of UFC, will stay on and be given a stake in the new business.
The Abu Dhabi government still owns 10 percent of UFC as well.
White should help smooth the transition in a volatile sport. Last year saw the rise of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, while this year saw them fall.
UFC 200 over the weekend exemplified the sport's volatility: After McGregor was pulled from the card, Daniel Cormier-Jon Jones was scheduled for the main event, but Jones tested positive for a banned substance and Anderson Silva signed on at the last minute. Much of the buzz the event generated could be attributed to Brock Lesnar, who was rented from WWE.
Industry insiders told ESPN they believe Rousey will remain a WME-IMG client because her fight contracts were never negotiated by the agency, which has been responsible for negotiating her business outside the Octagon.
UFC makes most of its money from pay-per-view broadcasts, but the organization also has a cable deal with Fox that expires at the end of 2018. The new deal is expected to be worth at least $200 million a year if UFC continues on an upward trajectory."
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