Is there room for more than one major MMA league?
The Professional Fighters League is adamant that there is simply more demand than supply for quality MMA fights, and the league is looking to fill the gap.
After signing a multiyear deal with ESPN, the PFL saw 46% year-over-year growth in its TV viewing audience in 2019. No other major sports league surpassed 4% year-over-year growth in 2019.
“When starting the PFL, our thesis was very simple, With 300 million fans worldwide and the fastest growing sport, there is room for more than one leader in MMA,” PFL CEO Peter Murray told Benzinga.
“We have a complementary product on a different night of the week that appeals to the most avid fans. It is not picking the PFL over another promotion; fans have interest in demand for more live content.”
Part of the PFL’s mission is to reimagine the sport of MMA, through a traditional regular season, postseason and championship format.
“Every fight counts. It leads to the next phase for these fighters and fans get that. There is no undercard,” Murray said.
MMA's International Prospects
MMA is truly an international sport, and the PFL is making sure to capitalize on expanding its reach internationally.
The league's roster in 2019 featured internationally curated talent from 15 countries, and it will continue to be a focus of the PFL moving forward.
PFL fights are distributed to more than 150 countries, and the league counts Russia, Brazil and China as some of its most promising markets.
“We want to make sure that not only are we getting the best athletes and fighting talent across the world, but we are also mapping those selections where we believe the biggest demand will be in our sport,” Murray said.
Closing The MMA Pay Gap
The league is also making a concerted effort to close the pay gap in MMA fighting.
In its second year, the PFL has already made a commitment to pay its female and male fighters the same amount — the first professional sports league to do so.
The league is set to host six championship fights across weight classes in which each winner will receive a $1-million payout.
“It’s real money in this sport — life-changing for these athletes. We believe it is part of our model to advance and grow the sport to recognize the athletes but also incentivize them,” said Murray.
Despite being in just its second year, the PFL is nearly on par with the UFC in terms of athlete pay.
As of Nov. 6, only six UFC fighters have earned more than $1 million for the entire year. The PFL will be putting six of its fighters over the $1-million salary mark after the conclusion of its championship.
2019 Top UFC Earners
- Khabib Nurmagomedov: $6,090,000.
- Donald Cerrone: $1,300,000.
- Anderson Silva: $1,290,000.
- Israel Adesanya: $1,098,000.
- Jon Jones: $1,080,000.
- Jorge Masvidal: $1,032,000.
- All figures are as of Nov. 6.
Despite the massive popularity of the UFC, fighter pay appears abnormally low compared to other professional sports leagues.
Addressing fighter pay is part of PFL's re-imagination and evolution of the sport, Murray said.
"ESPN has validated MMA as a sport, it is no longer niche. We are now onto the next evolution of growth in the sport and the PFL will play a role in growing it as well as scaling an overall business as a sports property."
The PFL Championship fights will be held on New Year's Eve in New York City as Madison Square Garden Co (NYSE: MSG)'s Hulu Theatre.