MMA startup Professional Fighters League has received a $28 million equity investment from a group that includes MGM Television chief Mark Burnett, actor-entrepreneur Kevin Hart, and self-help guru Tony Robbins.
The Washington, D.C.-based Professional Fighters League (PFL) is in its first year of operations. It aims to be a competitor against UFC amid the growing public interest in MMA bouts. The PFL aims to bring a March Madness-style competition structure to the MMA world. Other investors in this round of financing include tech titan Ted Leonsis and Riot Games co-founder Brandon Beck.
The PFL at present has a one-year deal with NBC Sports Network for carriage of its fights. Burnett, the renowned reality TV producers, aims to develop a range of programming around PFL, starting with a “Challengers Series” that would be an elimination-style competition among aspiring MMA pugilists for the chance to join the league. MGM is also an investor in PFL.
“This a big sports opportunity,” Burnett told Variety.
Another goal is to develop a subscription streaming service dedicated to PFL content. The investors are banking on the growth of MMA popularity in the U.S. The UFC was acquired in 2016 by Endeavor for $4.4 billion. This year, ESPN committed a whopping $1.5 billion to a five-year UFC rights deal.
“The most valuable thing in media right now is content that can drive subscription opportunities,” Burnett said.
PFL was founded by Donn Davis, Russ Ramsey, and Mark Leschly. At present the league has 72 fighters in six weight classes competing for $10 million in prize money. The PFL’s regular season concludes this month with two bouts in Atlantic City, N.J.
“Fans have enthusiastically responded to the PFL, with over 2 million people viewing PFL4,” said Pete Murray, CEO of PFL. “Our fights are as exciting and our broadcast is as good as other MMA companies that have been around for decades, and we’re just getting started.”
Burnett has a long history of marrying boxing with TV. The prolific producer is reviving his boxing competition series “The Contender” on MGM’s Epix pay-TV channel starting Aug. 25. The series, a competition for aspiring boxers, previously aired on NBC and ESPN from 2005 to 2009.