How big will the UFC be in Russia?
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This weekend, the UFC makes their long-awaited maiden voyage to Russia, home of current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The card is far from great; it is actually kind of bad. So bad in fact that the UFC is only putting it on Fight Pass, which severely limits the reach the card will get beyond those in attendance and extremely hardcore fans. So, with a card that is lacking in big fights, is this a sign of how much the UFC is willing to invest in Russia?
In similarly-located events in the past, there has been a large discrepancy in the reported gate and fighter salary. At UFC Hamburg this past July, they paid out an estimated $1,266,500 total in pay to fighters alone according to this The Sports Daily article. According to this same article, the attendance was just short of 8,000 with a $750,000 gate. At UFC Singapore, headlined by Holly Holm and Bethe Correia, had an attendance of about 8,400 and a gate of about $839,000. This event, according to this The Sports Daily article, paid out an estimated $1,430,500 in fighter salaries, including the Reebok bonuses for fighters. These have all been cards that have corresponded more to local time, resulting in odd times for viewers in the US. Hamburg was aired on FS1 on a Sunday afternoon, and Singapore was on Fight Pass, like this weekend’s card.
The strategy the UFC has seemed to take with these cards is to load them up with regional talent. In Singapore, it was loaded with Asian talent. For Hamburg, it was full of European fighters. For Russia, obviously, there are plenty of Russian fighters on the rosters, and nearly every fight includes a Russian fighter. This seems to build interest for those coming to help boost their gate and general interest around the event and future events in the nation. In Singapore, it did not seem to work out that way, as there was a drop in attendance of nearly 2,000 from the 2017 event and the 2018 iteration, headlined by Donald Cerrone and Leon Edwards.
The question is how large does the UFC think the Russian market can be, as there seems to be very little emphasis on penetrating these markets with the quality of cards put on in these areas. While it is of course yet to be seen, it could be a big miss by the UFC if they don’t put some emphasis into this area of the world. Russia is a huge market, with a population of 144 million, not too far behind Brazil, the UFC’s second largest market, with 207 million people. Although the time zone could be a challenge, as Moscow is 10 hours ahead of Las Vegas, it does not mean that the UFC cannot put on quality events there to capitalize on that market.
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