It is easier – far, far, far easier – for a world-class sprinter to finish a 100-meter dash in under 9.9 seconds than it is for a fight promoter to sell more than 1 million pay-per-views on a single fight card.
As of Aug. 19, there have been 202 instances of a man running the 100 meters in 9.89 seconds or less, which includes Usain Bolt’s ridiculous 9.58 seconds that set the world record in Berlin in 2009.
There have been less than 50 fight cards that have hit 1 million pay-per-view sales and less than 10 that have hit 2 million. Yet, it’s probably a safe bet that the Oct. 6 pay-per-view in Las Vegas between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and former champion Conor McGregor, which will headline UFC 229 at T-Mobile Arena, will surpass 2 million.
The pay-per-view between YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI recorded 800,000 buys, but at $10 a pop, it generated $8 million in revenue. It’s good money, to be sure, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to most major MMA and boxing cards.
The UFC charges $64.99 for its pay-per-views. At 2 million sales, that will mean Nurmagomedov-McGregor could gross roughly $130 million in pay-per-view revenue alone.
UFC president Dana White rarely talks about pay-per-view projections and when he does, it’s usually in the most general of terms. He’ll say something like, “It’s going to be huge,” or “It’s trending as big as anything we’ve ever done.”
But with Nurmagomedov-McGregor, White said flatly, “I am confident it will do 2 million on pay-per-view.”
Tickets for the fight sold out in three hours and will produce a near-record UFC gate in excess of $15 million. The tickets are in such demand that White himself purchased five tickets and UFC CEO Ari Emanuel bought six.
The UFC normally comps its fighters’ free tickets for its shows, but Nurmagomedov-McGregor will be an exception. Daniel Cormier, the UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion, purchased two tickets at $7,500 apiece. And he won’t even be in the prime seats, since the top tickets that night at T-Mobile Arena have gone for $10,000 apiece.
Most of those, but not all, will be purchased by casinos for their customers.
“We’ve had some regular people pay $10,000 for a ticket,” White said. “But when I say regular people, I should say some very rich, regular people.”
Here is the kicker, though: White isn’t ruling out the possibility of selling 3 million pay-per-views. While the official number for the Floyd Mayweather-McGregor fight last year is 4.4 million and is a company record, the UFC has never promoted an MMA card that has hit 2 million. At 3 million, Nurmagomedov-McGregor would come close to doubling the biggest UFC pay-per-view shows.
White is confident of doing that on the heels of a pay-per-view boxing match between middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 15 that will also be at T-Mobile Arena. Their first fight, on Sept. 16, 2017, sold 1.4 million on pay-per-view and expectations are that the rematch will exceed it.
Promoters slapped an $84.99 price tag on Alvarez-Golovkin II, so it will be fascinating to see the impact it has on sales. Oscar De La Hoya is promoting Alvarez-Golovkin and was on the other end of it last year. He was second, three weeks after Mayweather-McGregor was held. Because the fights were so expensive, there was a feeling that those who bought Mayweather-McGregor might be reticent to buy Alvarez-Golovkin I.
This time, De La Hoya gets the head start with Alvarez-Golovkin II, but White is hardly concerned. It’s because he has everything a pay-per-view generally needs to sell big: Huge names, a compelling matchup, oodles of free media coverage and heavy promotion.
Because the fight wasn’t finalized until Aug. 3, the UFC didn’t get an early start on promoting Nurmagomedov-McGregor. But it will have a huge late push in the final two weeks that will work in its favor, as fans will be inundated with it as the fight draws closer.
Though the Paul-KSI fight seems to have been a success with 800,000 sales, it was actually disappointing given the built-in audience they had. Logan Paul has 18.3 million YouTube subscribers and 4.7 million Twitter followers. His brother, Jake Paul has 16.7 million YouTube subscribers and 3.29 Twitter followers.
Given those numbers and the passionate following they have, 800,000 pay-per-view sales isn’t particularly impressive.
Selling pay-per-view is a black art, and there is no manual to follow for success. Mayweather certainly wasn’t a big draw in the first half of his career, but when he adopted the “Money May” persona in 2005 before a fight with the late Arturo Gatti, he turned himself into the biggest attraction in combat sports history. He earned the bulk of more than $800 million in career earnings after he became “Money May.”
“I was around then; you were around; no one gave a [expletive] about Floyd Mayweather when he was ‘Pretty Boy Floyd,’ ” White said. “He couldn’t sell pay-per-views. He couldn’t sell tickets and his fights were boring. They were defensive fights nobody wanted to see. What does he do? He puts the whole shtick of ‘Money Mayweather,’ throwing money around and all this, and he played the press like a fiddle. Like a fiddle.
“Look at him. Look at what he ended up doing and what he turned into. He’s a thousand times bigger than Logan Paul and these guys like that.”
And McGregor proved that he is in Mayweather’s orbit, if not in his league, as an attraction. And though nothing is certain, it’s why White may have to hire a couple dozen extra accountants to tally all the money that is going to be coming in on Oct. 6.
It will be one of the five biggest nights in combat sports history, and could get as high as third.
“Believe me when I tell you, this will be massive,” White said. “It’s going to blow people away how big this event will be.”
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