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WME IMG acquires UFC for $4 bn

MUMBAI: WME | IMG has acquired UFC, the world’s premier professional mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation.

The deal is worth $4 billion and is the largest in professional sport.

In India UFC action can be seen on Sony Six. The telecast rights for WWE in India is held by Zee-owned Ten Sports.

The Fertitta brothers have ceded control of the company that they bought back in 2001 for a reported $2 million. They will retain a small stake.

Upon closing, UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta will step down from day-to-day operations, but Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta will both retain a passive minority interest in the organisation.

With a portfolio of more than 800 owned, operated and/or commercially represented events, WME | IMG will also serve as UFC’s operating partner. WME | IMG, which has a proven track record of building leading sports brands, will focus on accelerating the sport’s popularity and presence around the world.

Silver Lake Partners and KKR will join WME | IMG as new strategic investors, along with MSD Capital, LP and MSD Partners, LP, which will provide preferred equity financing.

“We’ve been fortunate over the years to represent UFC and a number of its remarkable athletes. It’s been exciting to watch the organisation’s incredible growth over the last decade under the leadership of the Fertitta brothers, Dana White and their dedicated team. 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,” said WME | IMG co-CEOs Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell.

Founded in 1993, UFC produces more than 40 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world, broadcast in over 156 countries and territories, to nearly 1.1 billion television households worldwide, in 29 different languages. UFC continues to capitalise on digital distribution platforms via its wholly owned subscription OTT service, Fight Pass, delivering exclusive live events, thousands of fights on-demand and original content to fans around the globe.

UFC held its UFC 200 event in Las Vegas on 9 July 2016, which saw Brock Lesnar come out on top. Since its centennial event in 2009, UFC has undertaken a number of measures to increase awareness among fans globally, expanding its presence in Europe, Latin America and Asia, and adding women’s divisions. The organisation has also led the way among sports in promoting athlete safety. UFC is one of the largest contributors to the Cleveland Clinic’s Professional Fighters Brain Health Study, and it has the most robust drug testing programme in professional sports administered by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo J Fertitta said, “We’re confident that the new ownership team of WME | IMG, with whom we’ve built a strong relationship over the last several years, is committed to accelerating UFC’s global growth. Most importantly, our new owners share the same vision and passion for this organisation and its athletes.”

WME | IMG’s strategic investment partners include leading global investment firms Silver Lake and KKR, who have a track record of growing strong business enterprises in diverse industries together.

Silver Lake first made a strategic minority investment in WME in 2012 to support the company’s development of new business models and distribution channels leveraging the convergence of content creation and technology. Silver Lake subsequently reinvested in WME and supported its management team in the company’s 2014 acquisition of IMG.

Since 2015, WME | IMG and Silver Lake have completed a number of acquisitions to expand WME | IMG’s capabilities and client services globally and to broaden its owned event portfolio and content offerings through properties like the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR).

The PBR Built Ford Tough Series has broken 10 event attendance records and increased television viewership over 20% in 2016 following WME | IMG’s acquisition. As part of WME | IMG’s platform, UFC will leverage the same global relationships and capabilities to accelerate its growth trajectory.