Talent Agency Beefs Up Digital With UFC Deal

The $4 billion acquisition of the mixed martial arts phenomenon gives WME-IMG a prime source of digital content.
Christopher HosfordJuly 11, 2016

In a multi-billion dollar marriage of mixed martial arts and Hollywood, Unlimited Fighting Championship has been sold to a group led by WME-IMG, a talent agency that has been aggressively punching up its digital media muscle.

From representing UFC performers including former women’s bantamweight champion and media sensation Ronda Rousey, WME-IMG will now own the entire operation, providing itself with a prime source of content.

Terms of the deal were not announced, but The New York Times reported the purchase price at $4 billion, one of the largest sports deals ever.

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“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 news release.

“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,” they added. “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.”

Private-equity firms Silver Lake Partners and KKR will join WME-IMG as new strategic investors, while MSD Capital and MSD Partners will provide preferred equity financing.

Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta and business partner Dana Wright bought UFC for just $2 million in 2001. It now claims to be the world’s largest pay-per-view event provider, produces more than 40 live events annually and broadcasting in more than 156 countries and territories.

“As far as the business goes, our goal was to always take this sport to the next level, and Ari and WME-IMG are the guys to take it from here,” White told the Los Angeles Times.

For WME-IMG, the NYT said, the acquisition is the latest step toward its goal of becoming “a platform for content, to which it can apply a host of levers — from marketing to talent management to television and digital distribution.”

The agency’s other sports assets include the Professional Bull Riders league, which it acquired last year.