MEDIA & BUSINESS: Comparing the UFC live event business of 2016 and 2017

By Robert Vallejos, MMATorch contributor

Photo Credit Wade Keller © MMATorch

At the risk of sounding redundant, it must be declared that the UFC is having a down year.

However, when most make such a proclamation, they generally refer to the ho-hum fight announcements, underwhelming fights, and lack of active stars. From a business perspective, the dire situation is usually illustrated by television ratings or pay-per-view buys.

Yet an often under-evaluated UFC business indicator is their live event numbers.

The dynamics of attendance and gate revenue are different than those of television and pay-per-view, but they are nonetheless a vital component to the UFC machine.

With a dozen UFC events in the books for 2017, there is enough data to evaluate how those events measure up to the initial 12 events of the UFC’s wildly successful 2016.

Here is a look at some of the raw data with analysis of live event numbers for the first 12 UFC events of 2016 and 2017 respectively.

(* This data was compiled before UFC Fight Night: Gustafsson vs. Teixeira)

(**No gate revenue was made public for UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Gastelum, therefore all 2017 data should be considered incomplete)

Total Attendance

  • 2016: 135,036
  • 2017: 156,931

Despite the lackluster events and uninspiring fight anticipation, more people have attended UFC events in 2017 than they did at the same point in 2016. This may seem like a major anomaly given the current UFC landscape, but it is actually a logical outcome.

For one, the UFC in 2017 has served markets in New York State such as Brooklyn and Buffalo which have not experienced legitimate MMA in over 20 years. Despite the much-criticized main event of UFC 208 between Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm appearing like an act of desperation by the promotion, the event was financially successful from a live event standpoint.

Another factor in the attendance success of 2017 is the relatively small geographic footprint. Outside of one moderately successful show in London, the UFC has stayed within the Americas. The UFC is not taking geographical gambles.

Finally, the UFC’s questionable method of selling tickets under false pretenses should not be ignored. A component of the UFC’s new matchmaking landscape is the prevalent delay in announcing major fights. Perhaps even more egregious is the hesitation to officially announce when a fight is off. Consider the recent scenario where everyone had moved on from Cody Garbrandt fighting at UFC 213, long before the UFC announced his absence, but after tickets went on-sale. (To their credit, the UFC offered refunds to those who purchased tickets to UFC 212 after it was confirmed that Anderson Silva would not be fighting.)

Total Gate Revenue

  • 2016: $22,658,853
  • 2017: $16,295,902

Even with the omission of the gate from UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Gastelum, 2017 is non-competitive with 2016 when it comes to gate revenue. This is in large part due to the massive success of UFC 196. The card featured not only the first bout between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz, but UFC 196 was also the site of Holly Holm’s sole title defense after her upset victory over Ronda Rousey.

Without question, 2017 has not produced an event that can match the hype of UFC 196. Without a star like McGregor in the mix, the UFC has failed to present a UFC event as a destination entertainment spectacle.

While not having such a mega-event in 2017 can be a cause for concern, other “average” UFC events in 2017 are comparable to the gate numbers of early 2016. UFC 196 is more of an outlier than an indicator of the common gate revenue of the time.

Another factor in the relatively comparable gate numbers is a result of the ticket prices associated with presenting cards in New York.  Again, it should be noted that the laughable UFC 208 set the venue gate record for live sports.

Largest Single Event Attendance

  • 2016: 16,734 UFC Fight Night: Silva vs. Bisping
  • 2017: 17,834 UFC 211

It is not surprising that solid card in a market like Dallas yielded a significant crowd for UFC 211, nor is it surprising that Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping drew phenomenal attendance at the O2 arena in London; but it is indicative of the dire current landscape.

Currently, Silva and Bisping are elusive stars that the UFC cannot successfully book. In early 2016, they were aging stars that could be placed on a UFC Fight Pass card. A year after the successful Siva-Bisping tilt, the UFC drew roughly 1,000 fewer fans when they returned to London.

This is a major casualty of the recent UFC star drought. These niche or non-traditional markets are not able to be afforded star studded main events.

Diversity of Cities

  • 2016: Las Vegas, Nevada (4x), Boston, Massachusetts, Newark, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, London, England, Brisbane, Australia, Zagreb, Croatia, Tampa, Florida, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 2017: Phoenix, Arizona, Denver, Colorado, Houston, Texas, Brooklyn, New York, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Las Vegas, Nevada, Fortaleza, Brazil, London, England, Buffalo, New York, Kansas City, Missouri, Nashville, Tennessee, Dallas, Texas

The UFC is technically going to more locations in 2017 than they did in 2016, but they seem to be less adventurous with their travel. In 2017 the UFC has largely stayed within the costal United States. This contrasts to 2016 where they were actively exploring the Netherlands, Croatia, and Australia.

As it pertains to geography, the UFC seems to be at a crossroads. In the “old” UFC, the promotion would put on a show at any venue across the globe that would have them. However, in the new WME-IMG UFC, it remains to be seen if the company will be so bold.

Once again, the specter of New York now hangs over the UFC. Until the UFC wears out their welcome in New York, they will have a new home where they can seemingly guarantee a successful gate.

Furthermore, the UFC’s theoretical and physical home of Las Vegas has taken on a different role. Early in 2016, the UFC utilized Las Vegas on multiple occasions. However, this occurred before the opening of the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Since the opening of the arena, only one event has been held at a different Las Vegas venue.

NOTE: All numbers based on reports by

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: An angle for promoting Demetrious Johnson, the most interesting man in MMA

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.