The coronavirus pandemic has prevented fans from attending sporting events and that’s affecting the bottom line of the organizations that benefit from their patronage.
UFC President Dana White expects his company to suffer nine-digit losses in revenue by year’s end with COVID-19 precautions forcing the promotion to hold events without a live gate. After having to cancel events in March, April, and May, the UFC resumed operations with a trio of shows in Jacksonville, Fla., from May 9 to May 16. Attendance was limited to fighters and their teams, staff, and media, and that will also be the case with the next two events set to take place at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas this Saturday and on June 6.
Though he feels that COVID-19 testing procedures and protocol are improving, at least as far as how his organization and the commissions are handling it, White can see why the majority of the entertainment world remains at a standstill.
“If you look at these other sports right now, ‘Are we gonna go or are we not gonna go?’” White said, speaking to the media on Friday in Las Vegas. “The big problem for all sports right now, me, them, is the gate. We’ll lose over $100 million dollars this year. Over $100 million. It would be much easier for me to sit back and say, ‘Let’s wait this thing out.’ Waiting this thing out is a good option for a lot of people right now because there’s no gate.
“Why aren’t they releasing all these movies? They have all these movies in the can right now, they could be pumping these movies out left and right. Because they’re gonna lose possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in releasing these movies without people going and buying tickets in movie theaters. It usually goes to movie theaters, then it goes to some exclusive pay window, and then it gets released everywhere, then on TV. Financially, it’s hard to operate right now with the way that things are going on, but I’m moving forward. I don’t care. I’m gonna push through this.”
White points to the UFC’s relative autonomy as a reason for its flexibility when it comes to operating under conditions that would hinder most sporting entities, while referencing the dark days of the UFC when it wasn’t broadcast on pay-per-view or television.
However, he’s not sure when the promotion will be able to get back on the road as COVID-19 restrictions differ from state to state.
He declined to answer questions about when specific fighters such as Conor McGregor would be willing to compete again given that events will be without an audience for the foreseeable future. For reference, McGregor has participated in six of the 10 biggest MMA live gates in Nevada history with revenue exceeding $60 million.
Though White has a reputation for putting his head down and powering through promotional adversity, even the UFC president admitted that he’s shackled by uncertainty.
“Three months ago, ask me any question about this business, I will tell you, ‘It’s a fact. Definite. This is what’s going to happen,” White said. “I don’t know anymore. I don’t know. Since this thing started I’ve been trying to get ahead of it, and get ahead of it, and get ahead of it. And every time we thought we got ahead of it, the next day it would change.
“I’m not gonna sit here and act like now that it’s all starting to come back I know what’s gonna happen 30 days from now because I don’t. I’m in the same boat as everyone else. I’m just trying to think ahead and figure this thing out and be aggressive, but be smart about it.”
With the UFC’s financials in a less-than-ideal spot at the moment, the last thing White wants is to quibble over contracts, as he’s had to do in a recent public spat with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. According to White, “Bones” was asking for unreasonable compensation for a superfight with heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou, a claim that Jones vehemently disputed on social media.
In White’s eyes, he’s done right by the fighters and the UFC as a whole during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In this business, I am the guy that assumes all the risk,” White said. “I’m gonna get you to fight for this, and you’re gonna fight for that, you, you, we build a card. When we came out in this pandemic, common sense would tell you we’re gonna do good. There’s no guarantees that we’re gonna do well. I assume all the risk and that is my job to figure out. I haven’t paid too much attention to it ‘cause I got my own problems, I think that’s what’s going on in baseball. The owners are saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re gonna get killed here. You guys are gonna have to take pay cuts.’ And the players are saying, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not my problem. That’s your problem. You’ve got to figure out how to make money. You told me you were gonna pay this much money to play baseball.’
“I haven’t done that to any of my employees either. I haven’t laid off any of my employees. Nobody at work has taken a pay cut at the UFC and we’re in the same boat that everybody else is in, yet I’m running my business and I haven’t cut anybody’s money. I haven’t asked one fighter to take anything less. It’s the complete opposite, they’re asking for more money and the way that I look at it, that’s my problem. I need to figure that out.”