Sports-starved fans turned out for the UFC in big numbers on Saturday. Though Nielsen ratings for the preliminary broadcast of UFC 249 on ESPN won’t be available until Tuesday, the pay-per-view sales were very strong.
John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported that the number would exceed 700,000. UFC president Dana White does not disclose pay-per-view numbers and would not confirm Ourand’s number, but expressed satisfaction with the numbers.
“We absolutely destroyed it,” White told Yahoo Sports via telephone Monday. “It was a home run by every measure. The early trends were good and they continued.”
White had told Yahoo Sports before the card at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, that sales in Canada and Australia were both at double their usual level and that U.S. sales were trending well above average. He told Yahoo Sports multiple times before UFC 249 that the show was selling better than anything in the last several months other than Conor McGregor’s return to action at UFC 246 in January.
That show did just over 1 million sales.
The 700,000 is a very strong one for a show that did not include one of the company’s established stars atop the bill. Justin Gaethje dominated Tony Ferguson and stopped him in the fifth round of a sensational fight to win the interim lightweight championship.
The card, which was the first live sporting event in the U.S. since the coronavirus outbreak began shutting down the economy in mid-March, was available to international customers on the UFC’s FightPass service.
White said FightPass’ sales were also well above average, but he did not indicate a number.
“FightPass killed it,” White said. “It was a huge night for us all around.”
On paper, the card was one of the best the UFC had put together in its history and delivered. Despite the loss of a hotly anticipated fight between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Uriah Hall that was pulled on Friday when Souza tested positive for COVID-19, the show was action-packed and earned raves from those who watched it.
Gaethje and Ferguson won Fight of the Night, but Vicente Luque-Niko Price and Calvin Kattar-Jeremy Stephens also were in outstanding battles.
But none of the fighters on this card have established reputations as pay-per-view draws, so the sales figure shows that the UFC was able to pique sports fans’ curiosity.
The UFC has shows in Jacksonville that will stream on ESPN+ on Wednesday, with Anthony Smith meeting Glover Teixeira in the main event, and on Saturday with Walt Harris facing Alistair Overeem in the headliner.
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