Mixed martial arts group UFC to be acquired by talent agency WME-IMG

Mon Jul 11, 2016 4:33pm EDT
 
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By Liana B. Baker

(Reuters) - Mixed martial arts entertainment franchise Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has agreed to be bought by Talent agency WME-IMG in a transaction a source valued at $4 billion, reflecting the growing popularity of a once-fringe spectator sport.

The acquisition, which has one of the largest ever price tags for a sports brand, is also backed by private, equity firms Silver Lake Partners LP [SILAK.UL] and KKR & Co LP KKR.N, as well as investment firms owned by billionaire Michael Dell and his family.

"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," WME IMG Co-CEOs Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell said in a statement on Tuesday.

UFC, founded in 1993, popularized cage fighting and now holds more than 40 fights around the world every year. These events, which feature mixed martial arts and have surpassed pro wresting and boxing in popularity, are broadcast in more than 156 countries, reaching 1.1 billion households. Mixed martial arts has loose roots in a Brazilian form of fighting.

While UFC initially drew a niche following, it has now created global stars such as Conor McGregor, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Ronda Rousey, a female fighter, who have mainstream followings and marketing deals.

The deal comes after the franchise last weekend hosted one of the biggest events in its history, UFC 200, a series of title fights, in Las Vegas.

The deal represents the biggest acquisition to date by WME-IMG, a talent agency formed in a 2013 merger of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and IMG Worldwide. Last year, it acquired the Miss Universe organization from Donald Trump and rodeo-events company Professional Bull Riders.

UFC would be the latest live-events media brand with strong ties to Las Vegas to end up owned by private equity firms. Cirque du Soleil, the global circus and entertainment company, was sold to Texas-based TPG Capital LP last year in a deal valued at about $1.5 billion.   Continued...

 
Jul 9, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Mark Hunt (blue gloves) fights Brock Lesnar (red gloves) during UFC 200 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports