Why UFC-DraftKings Partnership Is Most Important One Yet
UFC has an on-brand pedigree as the brash, tough and feisty outsider fighting its way on to the stage of mainstream sport. It’s often tough for the uninitiated to watch the best UFC fights because they feature blood and brutality. But we still love a good fight. And the injuries don’t compare to those absorbed on a football field.
In their early days, professional mixed-martial arts bouts had to search for legal jurisdictions, never mind media coverage or legal betting lines in Las Vegas.
Through the leadership of UFC president Dana White, with the financial muscle of its current ownership group and an exclusive (in the United States, anyway) deal with ESPN and ESPN+, UFC has become as mainstream as the PGA Tour or NASCAR.
The legal sports betting industry followed a similar path. The first tool required was legalization. Then financial backing. Finally, legitimacy came through media, lots of advertising and other means. There has always a desire to bet on sports. It has been happening in this country legally and otherwise for more than a century.
We’ve been smothered with sponsorship announcements in the past 18 months between pro leagues, teams and legal gambling providers. Each one is another affirmation in the future of legal sports betting.
Many have been pedestrian baby steps toward a mainstream acceptance of sports betting unimaginable in the United States just five years ago.
The monstrous 5-year deal between DraftKings and UFC announced Thursday, however, is a $350 million dollar metaphorical walk-out on to the main stage of sport.
Think the showmanship of Conor McGregor meets the take-no-prisoners ferocity of Khabib Nurmagomedov.
And this time, they both won.
$350 Million Commitment Is Future Of Sports Betting
Officially, DraftKings became the “Official Sportsbook and Daily Fantasy Partner” of the UFC. The dollar value of the UFC/DraftKings deal is truly significant. It represents a massive commitment by DraftKings’ parent company in terms of its immediate and long-term future. And it shows that someone writing those big checks has faith in both U.S. sports betting and UFC continuing their rocketing growth.
The UFC betting audience is loyal, young, engaged, digital-first and overwhelmingly male. It is the exact audience online sportsbooks covet. If there was one professional organization outside the NFL or NBA that my fictional online sports betting operation would align itself exclusively to for $350 million, it would be UFC.
“This is a massive deal that will benefit UFC, DraftKings, and most of all the fans,” White said in the announcement’s press release. “DraftKings is the best at what they do in the betting and daily fantasy space, and unlike other sports, UFC has no offseason. The action will be non-stop for fans of UFC and DraftKings. This is the most important deal we’ve ever done to increase engagement with our fans and reach new ones.”
White is never one for understatement. After all, he hails from New England. He famously claims he escaped from Boston to Las Vegas because he owed money to famed mass murderer, Irish mob boss and legendary FBI informant Whitey Bulger.
DraftKings, too, shares Massachusetts DNA. This deal is another reminder of the fact that despite having 14 pending bills on Beacon Hill, sports betting remains illegal in the Bay State.
To paraphrase Brookline native John F. Kennedy: “Ask not, ‘Why should sports betting be legal in Massachusetts?” Ask, ‘Why isn’t sports betting legal in Massachusetts?’”
UFC Fought Off Peril in 2020
A year ago, UFC faced an uncertain future. Sporting events were being canceled as athletes tested positive for COVID-19. Soon, games were canceled. Seasons were postponed. Fans disappeared.
During the early months of the pandemic, White was a one-man army fighting to find venues that would host his fights, and find fighters able to travel and participate in bouts. He had a card scheduled at tribal casino in California canceled in April due to pressure from ESPN. When UFC 249 took place on May 9 in Jacksonville, Florida, it was the first major professional sporting event in nearly two months.
White was criticized by doomsayers who labeled that card – never mind any activity outside of one’s house – as a “super-spreader” event.
Still, White wasn’t satisfied.
Fight Island was constructed as a bubble in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It became the sport’s Ground Zero in 2020. UFC athletes from around the world traveled to the White’s safe zone within the confines of this Persian Gulf nation – secluded from everyone else – and battled while the pandemic raged worldwide. Fight Island has hosted a dozen major UFC events since its debut last July.
It's up to YOU to take care of your business, your family, your employees, and those you care about!!! #kickassin2021— danawhite (@danawhite) December 21, 2020
“Since Day 1 with this company we have said, ‘Let’s try to figure it out. Whatever is thrown at us, how do we deal with it and run the business?’ This is no different,” White told Yahoo Sports in October 2020.
“Every day we worked on it, though, and we figured it out. We’ve always figured it out. This was hard because so many powerful forces were against us even trying. And the winds changed every few hours, every day. Every time we got something done, there was something new. But we’ve done it.”
Well, UFC did it again on Thursday.
And this time the organization pocketed $350 million for the win.
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