Dana White says business is booming, will have $175 million economic impact in Las Vegas this week
LAS VEGAS – Dana White is frequently over-the-top enthusiastic in the days leading up to a fight card. That in and of itself is not surprising, or unexpected, because the UFC president has something to sell and it's easier to hawk tickets and pay-per-views when you believe in the product.
But White's enthusiasm goes beyond just a successful weekend for the UFC at Mandalay Bay. The company will stage its Fan Expo on Friday and Saturday, which at least 25,000 people are expected to attend; UFC 175 on Saturday, featuring title fights between Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida, and Ronda Rousey and Alexis Davis; and The Ultimate Fighter Finale on Sunday, which will feature the return of B.J. Penn.
White told Yahoo Sports that Saturday's paid gate at Mandalay Bay will surpass $5 million, an extraordinary number considering that Mandalay Bay has about a third fewer seats than the MGM Grand Garden across the street, which hosts the majority of UFC pay-per-view cards in Las Vegas.
If the gate indeed does reach $5 million, it would be the sixth-largest UFC gate in Nevada history and one of the UFC's top 10 paid gates of all-time. White said he is confident the paid gate will surpass $5 million, but it will need to reach $5.102 to move into fifth place among the UFC's biggest gates in Nevada.
Though the UFC has been heavily criticized for putting on too many shows, White angrily scoffed at the notion and he said "business has never been better for us." A Las Vegas analyst estimated that the UFC weekend in Las Vegas, with the two fight cards and the Fan Expo, will have an economic impact of $175 million upon the city, White said.
"After the two shows this weekend, we'll have put on six shows in four weeks and held a Fan Expo," White said. "Who else does that? Who else could do that? Last weekend, we put two fight cards on on opposite sides of the world. The show in New Zealand was a huge success and the people there went crazy for it. We had a [$913,000] gate there, and on the same day in San Antonio, we did a [$728,358] gate. Do you realize how significant that is?"
White pointed to the surprisingly low gate that a boxing card in San Antonio on March 1 generated as evidence of how strong the UFC's gate was for a show headlined by featherweights Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fought Bryan Vera on that show, and Chavez Jr. is one of boxing's biggest draws. The Chavez-Vera II fight in San Antonio drew 1.39 million average viewers to the HBO broadcast and is the most-viewed HBO card to date in 2014.
It follows a trend for Chavez, because he has been the featured fighter in the most-viewed HBO bouts in 2012 and 2013, as well.
But the Chavez-Vera fight in San Antonio drew 7,000 for a gate of $650,000.
"There are a lot of Mexican and Mexican-American people in San Antonio and if Chavez is going to do a big number anywhere, it's going to be there," White said. "And we still came up with a bigger gate than that, and a better attendance."
He's enthused, though, because he said business signs are trending up. He is also projecting Sunday's "The Ultimate Fighter Finale" card to do in excess of $500,000. Initially, White said the UFC planned only to open floor seating for the Sunday card, featuring Penn-Frankie Edgar III in the main event. But all the floor seats sold quickly, so they opened an upper bowl with tickets priced at $50.
White's projection for the six events – cards in Albquerque, Vancouver, San Antonio and Auckland, New Zealand, as well as the two in Las Vegas this weekend – is for a total $9 million-plus gate and more than 13.7 million television viewers in the U.S. alone.
One of the things that has perked the UFC's business so much is the vast worldwide television network it's developed, which shows weekly content. The cost to the UFC staging a show remains the same, but they were able to add television networks because they were able to deliver content on a regular basis.
Thus, it costs them the same to produce a single event, but now they're getting revenue from that event from television networks around the world, dramatically increasing profitability. White said there are more than 75 networks currently showing UFC programming on at least a weekly basis.
He noted that in China in 2013, approximately 115 million viewers watched UFC programming during the year. As of the end of June, UFC television viewership in China has already surpassed 115 million viewers.
"This business has never been bigger and never been crazier," White said. " ... I hear all this [expletive] about the Fight Pass cards, but Americans can't wrap their heads around the fact we're not doing those cards for them. The fights are for the people in those countries. Say what you want about a card, but there is nothing like a live UFC event. We've found that people who go to one of our live events tend to become regular UFC fans. We are looking at a total attendance in these fight cards of 60,000, so those are 60,000 people we're developing into UFC fans.
"We put the fights on Fight Pass so that the hard core people who might want to watch them have a way to see them. This has nothing to do with us trying to sell those fights to the fans here. If you want to watch them, great, it's 10 bucks a month. We have Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt fighting in Japan coming up. That's going to be an unreal fight. If you want to see it, it's 10 bucks and you can cancel it after a month. If you don't want to see those cards, we don't give a [expletive] because we're not doing the shows for anybody but the country's we're doing them in. We're putting the shows on for the people in these other markets where they can see the shows live in their prime time instead of having to watch at 3, 4 or 5 in the morning."
The UFC show in Vancouver was a pay-per-view headlined by Demetrious Johnson against Ali Bagautinov. White would not reveal the pay-per-view sales for the show, though industry sources tell Yahoo Sports it was about 125,000. If true, that would make it one of the UFC's lowest-selling shows in years.
But White, who conceded that he didn't expect big numbers for that show, said it's a process of developing the flyweight division.
"Demetrious is a guy who's getting better and better, and if he keeps finishing people and winning fights, sooner or later, he's going to break through," White said. "People are still getting familiar with him and with that division. We didn't go into that fight with the thought it would do a massive number. We know the market and our projection for what it would do was right on the money.
"This kind of [expletive] is stuff I've heard for years and I'm just sick of listening to it, because it's so [expletive] stupid and wrong. People are [expletive] without any facts. We built this business in the U.S. and everyone kept telling us we couldn't. Then we built it in Canada and Brazil and now we're doing the same thing around the world. This is how you invest and build your business to make it strong for the long haul."