Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images/AFP
Need more proof that the sporting world is starving for action? Look no further than the numbers surrounding last weekend's fan-less UFC PPV card in Jacksonville Florida. Pent-up demand and a stacked card propelled the first marketable, bankable sporting event in two months to some impressive figures, both in PPV buys and wagering traffic for the event.
Dana White and the UFC won the race to be the first sport back from the coronavirus hiatus and it seems to have paid off. The numbers coming out of the weekend action exceeded expectations of both the UFC and sports betting operators, while breeding some optimism among industry insiders that sports betting won't skip a beat once the world returns back to normal.
According to SI.com, some sportsbooks reported that UFC 249 was the most-bet MMA event ever before the fights even started. “We absolutely destroyed it,” UFC President Dana White told Yahoo Sports. “It was a home run by every measure. The early trends were good and they continued.”
While dollar figures for UFC 249 betting are still trickling in, sportsbooks have been more than willing to share their delight with the overall numbers for the Night of Fights. SuperBook from Las Vegas reported doing six-figures of action despite their own mobile app only being operational for three days ahead of the event.
Another Major sportsbook is said to have quadrupled their betting handle from UFC 248 which went down March 7. Their UFC 249 take, by estimation, wound up to be about one-third of the overall handle that the UFC has provided the sportsbook so far this year.
It wasn't just sports betting that saw some impressive numbers from Saturday night's action. ESPN’s Pay-Per-View were equally strong, which speaks to sports fans willing to pay up just to see some live, real-time competition. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported 700,000 PPV buys, which is definitely on the high-side since ESPN took over UFC PPV subscriptions. Nielsen ratings for the prelims on ESPN haven't been released yet but are expected to be equally impressive as are the UFC's FightPass sales.
What some sportsbooks are saying
PointsBet USA director of communications Patrick Eichner said of Saturday’s event: “This UFC 249 card ended up slightly outperforming Conor McGregor’s return to the octagon in UFC 246. For us, those two (events) have blown every other UFC event out of the water, with handles comparable to a full weekend’s worth of NBA games.”
Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US, while not eclipsing any sort of record commented that: “Handle was very good. I’m not sure what to compare it to, because of all the different factors. Big thumbs-up to Dana White and UFC for pulling it off and having strong safety measures, as well.”
The SuperBook at Westgate just re-opened their sportsbook Thursday and saw some respectable traffic as well. Derek Wilkinson, manager of The Sportsbook said of UFC 249: “When you consider that there are almost no tourists in town and all of the bets came through the mobile app, it was a big success. Definitely not a record, but really good with all the limiting factors considered.”
Keeping up the momentum
There are two more UFC events on tap this week and both will be aired on ESPN+. Wednesday features Anthony Smith battling Glover Teixeira in the Main Event and Saturday's card highlights a Heavyweight clash between Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem.
While firm numbers on the amount bet on UFC 249 haven’t been released just yet, it is easy to see by the PPV buys and the comments by those in the sports betting industry, that the event accomplished all of its goals. UFC 249 signaled a “return to sports”, it kickstarted a desperate sports betting industry, it gave the combat sports organization a little added exposure and it wet the whistle for sports fans and bettors alike.
While Dana White’s vision may not have been the smartest one from a health and safety prospective, it certainly was an appreciated one.