UFC already had high hopes for the return of star Conor McGregor at the Oct. 6 lightweight title matchup against Russian champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. Now the mixed-martial arts promoter is projecting upwards of 3 million pay-per-view buys for the event — which would be the most in its history.
At the 3 million mark, this Saturday’s UFC 229 would be the third-biggest PPV event in the U.S. behind only the 4.6 million PPV buys garnered by Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao in 2015, and 4.4 million for last year’s McGregor-Mayweather boxing match, which Mayweather won in a TKO.
The McGregor-Nurmagomedov matchup also is trending to set Las Vegas attendance and ticket sales records. It’s on track to sell out T-Mobile Arena, with an expected 20,000 attendees and a gate of $17 million (the highest ever for UFC in Vegas).
“It’s certainly going to be a high-water mark for UFC in our company’s history, along virtually very metric we measure the business,” UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein said.
With the UFC 229 pay-per-view event priced at $64.99, gross revenue from 3 million buys would be $195 million; UFC shares a portion of the sales with distribution partners including cable and satellite TV operators.
So far this year, the MMA promoter has seen its PPV sales and TV ratings fall below past years — and the highly anticipated fight Saturday could give it a boost leading in the expanded $1.5 billion TV deal with ESPN that kicks in next year.
“We’ve done big, big events in the past and we’ve seen that momentum carry forward,” Epstein said. “When you have a major event, more people watch it, more fans are created.”
And UFC will be bringing back McGregor for future bouts: The Irish MMA star recently signed a six-fight deal with the promoter, which is owned by Endeavor and several investment partners.
Still, UFC is facing heightened competition from Viacom’s Bellator and upstart PFL (Professional Fighters League), as well as other MMA promoters internationally.
Bellator is expanding its events slate to 32 fights in 2019, up from 22, and has a new deal with John Skipper-led DAZN subscription-streaming platform to distribute seven fight cards per year exclusively.
The PFL, in its inaugural season, has stepped up its promotion. Actor-comedian Kevin Hart, who participated in PFL’s $28 million investment round earlier this summer, is featured in the PFL’s new advertising campaign and show openers beginning with Friday’s PFL8, which launches the 2018 PFL Playoffs in New Orleans. Hart shared the first PFL promo on his Instagram account Wednesday.
UFC 229’s main card starts at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Saturday, Oct. 6, as with its other pay-per-view events is available across more than 30 platforms. MMA fans can purchase access through pay-TV providers; connected-TV platforms including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox, PlayStation, Samsung, and LG; its own UFC TV platform and mobile apps; YouTube; and Amazon Prime Video under a deal announced earlier this year.
Preliminary bouts for UFC 229 will air on Fox Sports’ FS1 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, and early prelims will stream on UFC Fight Pass starting at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT.
McGregor has been the UFC’s biggest star and largest PPV draw, having headlined four of the six highest-selling UFC pay-per-view events. He announced a hiatus from the UFC in 2017, before returning for the Mayweather event.
UFC 229 carries additional intrigue in the wake of McGregor’s April 2018 arrest in New York after he attacked a bus with UFC fighters in an apparent attempt to confront Nurmagomedov.
In forecasting PPV demand, UFC tracks a number of data points, such as the number of views on free YouTube videos of the headline fighters, social-media engagement, and views of the web series following McGregor and Nurmagomedov leading up to the fight. For UFC 229, “we have hit records we’ve never seen before,” said Epstein.
ESPN, meanwhile, has been promoting UFC 229 across its platforms even before the expanded pact goes into effect next year. ESPN aired the “Bad Blood” countdown show to the event several times on the network and put the episodes on its digital outlets, and “SportsCenter” will be on-site in Vegas for the McGregor-Nurmagomedov fight.
Pictured above: Conor McGregor at the Sept. 20 news conference promoting his upcoming fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov.