White says UFC will ‘lose over $100 million’ in gate, while on track for one of their biggest years ever

Dana White spoke about some financial challenges on a recent media scrum. It’s where he revealed that the UFC will “lose over $100 million”…

By: Anton Tabuena | 3 years ago
White says UFC will ‘lose over $100 million’ in gate, while on track for one of their biggest years ever
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Dana White spoke about some financial challenges on a recent media scrum. It’s where he revealed that the UFC will “lose over $100 million” in 2020 because of the absence of a live audience.

“The big problem for all sports right now, me, them, is the gate. We’ll lose over $100 million this year. Over $100 million,” White claimed. “It would be much easier for me to sit back and say, ‘Let’s wait this thing out.’ Waiting this thing out is a good option for a lot of people right now because there’s no gate.

“Why aren’t they releasing all these movies? They have all these movies in the can right now. They could be pumping these movies out left and right. Because they’re gonna lose possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in releasing these movies without people going and buying tickets in movie theaters. It usually goes to movie theaters, then it goes to some exclusive pay window, and then it gets released everywhere, then on TV. Financially, it’s hard to operate right now with the way that things are going on, but I’m moving forward. I don’t care. I’m gonna push through this.”

Apart from losing revenue from the live gate, White went on to say that he’s the one assuming “all the risk,” while the fighters like Jon Jones and others are just asking for more money. He compared other sports and stated that despite the challenges, it’s a good thing that he’s not giving anyone in the UFC a pay cut.

“In this business, I am the guy that assumes all the risk,” White said. “I’m gonna get you to fight for this, and you’re gonna fight for that, you, you, we build a card. When we came out in this pandemic, common sense would tell you we’re gonna do good. There’s no guarantees that we’re gonna do well. I assume all the risk and that is my job to figure out. I haven’t paid too much attention to it ‘cause I got my own problems.

“I haven’t laid off any of my employees. Nobody at work has taken a pay cut at the UFC and we’re in the same boat that everybody else is in, yet I’m running my business and I haven’t cut anybody’s money. I haven’t asked one fighter to take anything less. It’s the complete opposite, they’re asking for more money and the way that I look at it, that’s my problem. I need to figure that out.”

There’s quite a lot to unpack on these statements. It is also interesting that White has gone from telling everyone how he doesn’t “need a crowd,” to now using that as an excuse to not pay fighters more during negotiations.

White has been bullish on pushing through with shows during a pandemic. As the Wall Street Journal estimates, this is to reach their event quota, complete their contracts, and make around $750 million in revenue.

That’s achievable without a live audience, because with all their contractual deals — like that lucrative ESPN contract — the UFC doesn’t rely on live gate and PPV buys as much as they did on previous years. That’s what differentiates them from White’s examples like the movie industry, which relies heavily on ticket sales. That quota is also probably why he wants to push through instead of “waiting this thing out.”

As Moody’s estimates, attendance accounted for just “less than 12%” of the UFC’s revenue in their record year in 2019.

Moody’s company audits estimated that UFC’s 2019 revenue is around $850 million to $900 million. The New York Post’s sources also had that figure at around $900 million.

Even if we round up to 12%, total gate would be around $102-108 million based on those figures, which would also fit White’s “over $100 million” estimate. Even if we take the lower $850M revenue estimate, deducting the gate figures still comes close to NY Post’s $750M estimate for 2020.

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

PPV numbers were down in 2017, but White said it was their “best year by a long shot” at the time, because of revenues — even if it that figure was inflated by MayMac numbers. Using that same metric White used can show just how good 2020 would be despite the absence of ticket sales.

Here are numbers from the past 15 years, to give a better historical comparison:

UFC Yearly Revenues:

2019: 850-900M
2018: 695M
2017: 750M
2016: 690M

2015: 609M
2014: 450M
2013: 516M
2012: 446M
2011: 437M
2010: 441M
2009: 336M
2008: 275M
2007: 226M
2006: 180M
2005: 48.3M

Note: 2016-2019 via Moody’s financial audit, 2005-2015 via UFC’s own reports.

If that number holds true and the UFC generates $750 million in revenue in 2020, it wouldn’t match their record setting 2019, but it would still be around their second best year ever.

As broken down before, if they can put on the shows, UFC has guaranteed revenue from ESPN, sponsors, international broadcast rights, licensing fees, and others. At the very worst, it seems like even without the gate revenue, 2020 would still be the third best year in the company’s history, behind just 2019 and 2017 with that added MayMac boxing revenue.

Fighters are the ones risking their health — and for most of them, half of their paychecks — every time they compete, especially during a pandemic. So despite White claiming he will “assume all the risk,” the company actually have guaranteed figures that ensure they’ll still have a pretty lucrative 2020.

Losing “over $100 million” is a big number being thrown around, but that’s very different from the company actually losing money. The UFC is not bleeding cash. They’re only going to earn slightly less than they expected, and 2020 is still on track to be the one of the UFC’s best years ever.

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About the author
Anton Tabuena
Anton Tabuena

Anton Tabuena is the Managing Editor for Bloody Elbow. He’s been covering MMA and combat sports since 2009, and has also fought in MMA, Muay Thai and kickboxing.

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