UFC has its first official sportsbook, a five-year year partnership with DraftKings that’s one of the biggest corporate deals in the promotion’s history.
DraftKings will pay UFC more than $100 million in cash over the five years, according to someone with knowledge of the partnership. There’s also a commitment of nearly $250 million in marketing around DraftKings’ UFC products, the person said.
UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein, who called the deal “one of the biggest we’ve ever done,” declined to comment on the financial terms. A spokesman for DraftKings also declined to comment.
UFC generally looks for three main things when negotiating its corporate deals, according to Epstein. The financials have to work; the partner has to be an industry leader; and the relationship has to help UFC both engage its core fans and attract new ones.
“These guys have a platform that is second-to-none in the United States,” Epstein said. “And that’s what makes this deal so groundbreaking. It’s one that is going to give us, I think, the most meaningful opportunity we’ve ever had to engage our existing fanbase and grow a new one.”
The partnership, which is exclusive across the U.S. and Canada, has both marketing and product components. DraftKings will have its logo on the in-arena clocks, and on the canvas for some UFC events. It will be able to use UFC marks and logos on its platform, and will have a presence across the UFC media ecosystem.
From a product standpoint, DraftKings will enhance its UFC offerings, including more free-to-play contests, enhanced prop bets and other promotions. It has committed to spending nearly $250 million to promote those products, the person said.
Both sides are looking to capitalize on the momentum generated by UFC in May of last year, when it was the first major U.S. sports body to resume holding events during the pandemic. With sports fans yearning for live matches, betting on UFC surged in the U.S., and that has remained as other sports returned to the field.
“Even before the pandemic, there was growth in betting on UFC events,” Epstein said. “Of course, being the first back in action during the COVID era significantly accelerated that trend, and we continue to see strong betting on our events.”
Though MMA bouts aren’t the best format for in-play betting—there are fewer inherent stoppages than golf or baseball, and fewer stats than football or basketball—the UFC calendar delivers a consistent flow of events throughout the year, without any real off-season. That includes 44 major events in 2021, plus a number of smaller series.
UFC has worked with DraftKings before—most recently, DraftKings advertised during fights UFC held last year in Abu Dhabi. This is UFC’s first exclusive sportsbook deal.