The Professional Fighters League has signed a long-term agreement with Legends to run its ticketing, sponsorship and venue operations. Legends, which was founded by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees in 2008, also bought a “meaningful” minority stake in the mixed martial arts business.
The Cowboys and Yankees, which each own just over 20% of Legends and are the two most valuable sports franchises in the world, join a bevy of sports team owners betting on the PFL, which operates like a traditional sports league with a regular season, playoffs and championship. The PFL already raised $178 million during four fundraising rounds ahead of the Legends buy. Backers include Ted Leonsis, Mark Lerner, Brandon Beck, David Blitzer, Debra Cafaro and Elysian Park Ventures.
“The PFL is a made-for-TV global media company,” said PFL chairman and founder Donn Davis in an interview last week. “In 2022, we want to take that product to the people, and we are going to do that with Legends.”
Legends will help identify the best locales to host events, including an international bid process for its championship, which comprises six title fights with $1 million for each winner. The global MMA fan base is estimated at 450 million people, and at least 85% are based outside the U.S. Another component of the agreement: to secure development partners to build a training and production facility, similar to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
“MMA is a global sport, and the PFL has global aspirations, and we are a global platform,” Legends COO Mike Tomon said. Legends has deep expertise in sponsorships, hospitality and event management with clients, including Real Madrid, the University of Notre Dame, LA28, SoFi Stadium, Wimbledon and Manchester City. It is the merchandise partner for UFC.
The PFL is the latest deal for Legends since private equity firm Sixth Street bought a majority stake in the company in early 2021. Legends has made more than 15 investments over the last six months, such as providing financing for the recently merged Ticket Evolution and DTI Management.
“There is an abundance of MMA talent and demand,” Tomon said. “The PFL is an opportunity where we see a lot of upside in the right segment.” The capital investment aligns Legends with the PFL beyond just an operations standpoint, and Tomon said the deep roster of sports heavyweights already bankrolling the PFL gave significant “momentum” to the investment discussions.
The third PFL regular season was pushed to 2021 due to the pandemic and took place in a bubble environment at Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. It will hold three rounds of “playoffs” this month at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla., before the championship event in the fall. “We bring transparency and meritocracy to this sport,” said Davis.
The PFL is the second-largest MMA company, behind industry behemoth UFC, and is available in 160 countries through 32 media partnerships, according to Davis, who says global viewership is up 50% annually in the past two seasons. Beyond attracting sports team owners, celebrities like Marshawn Lynch and Wiz Khalifa, an avid MMA fan who trains in combat sports, have also invested in the PFL. The PFL enlisted the rapper, who has more than 100 million social media followers, to narrate their cold opens for each broadcast in 2021.
Davis says the Legends investment and $65 million in venture funding announced in February will target three areas: fighter quality, global expansion and technological innovation. The PFL has poured $20 million since its inception into innovations like its “Smart Cage,” which measures power, punch speed, heart rates and more; it introduced a computer scoring system this year.
Tomon sees an opportunity for the PFL to move beyond just an event-based model and create a 365 day-a-year business with a location-based attraction. He highlights The Star, the Cowboys’ $1.5 billion training facility that includes tours, private events, membership clubs, shopping and dining. Legends served as project manager for the facility and developed the marketing plan for it that helped boost the Cowboys’ franchise value to $6.4 billion, the richest among NFL teams.