Australian fans are spending as much on watching and going to Ultimate Fighting Championship events as their North American counterparts, and the sport will continue to expand down under after UFC held its first event in Western Australia on Sunday.
In May 2017, the WA government overturned a ban on mixed martial arts cage fighting, paving way for the UFC to prepare a pay-per-view event.
"When we look at Australia, we realise it's a country of 25 million-26 million people. It's a very Westernised culture, it has very cosmo cities with very good economic profiles," UFC senior vice-president of international and content David Shaw said.
"On a per capita basis, Australians are spending as much on UFC as any other population, so there is interest here. We will continue to have two to three events in Australian and New Zealand in the foreseeable future."
UFC estimates there are more than 3.5 million fans in Australia.
The sport has grown dramatically in Australia since the first UFC event in Australia in Sydney in 2010, and Melbourne's Etihad Arena still holds the record for the most attended UFC event of all time – the 2015 fight between Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm.
Sunday's UFC221, which included a heavyweight fight with Australian Mark Hunt, was the 12th live event from the sport in Australia, but broadcasting rights and pay-per-view purchases remain key.
In July 2017, UFC signed a deal with pay TV provider Fetch to be the official broadcast partner of the sport. The subscription TV business has invested heavily in its relationship with the sport, signing on as joint sponsor for Friday's open workouts in Perth, getting its brand on the UFC Octagon at UFC221, television commercials run during the event, branding at autograph sessions with athletes and various other marketing opportunities.
"It's really our content relationships that have allowed us to grow the sport in Australia. Time zone plays a key role in all of this. Our pay-per-view events are always going to be broadcast at 10pm eastern in North America ... around lunch time, early afternoon [on a Sunday] in Australia," Mr Shaw said.
"The consumption of our product makes sense for Australians."
The UFC has just four pay-per-view markets: the US, Canada, Australian and New Zealand. Mr Shaw said revenue from those pay-per-view events was critical and the sport didn't offer them in places like Europe because it does not believe fans will get up at 2am or 3am and pay to watch an event.
"The UFC is a juggernaut. You need only stroll past a few pubs on a Sunday afternoon when a big fight is on to get a feel for the size and dedication of the fan base," Fetch chief executive Scott Lorson said.
"Fetch is extremely excited about our new partnership with the UFC. As 'official broadcast partner of the UFC', Fetch will offer all of the PPV events, plus hundreds of hours of additional programming via our dedicated Edge Sports channel."
In 18 years, UFC has become big business. In 2000, the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank, bought the franchise for just $US2 million. The sport would grow and produce worldwide superstars such as Rousey, who has now appeared in several Hollywood films, and Conor McGregor.
In July 2016, the Fertitta brothers sold the fight promoting business to talent agency WME-IMG for $US4 billion, who also brought in private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Silver Lake Partners as investors.
Mr Shaw said the new ownership group would be key to boosting profits for UFC, which reported a profit of $US170 million in the 2015-16 financial year before the sale.
"There are number of areas of expertise their company has that benefit us. They have a very sophisticated live event business and live event marketing business – we've been able to tap into those key learnings."
This article was provided and published by the Australian Financial Review.
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