TKO president declares UFC now one of the 4 major sports: ‘Against the NHL, even including the playoffs, we dwarf them’

Dana White always touted that he would build UFC into the biggest sporting brand in the world, and while he’s not there yet, executives within the promotion believe they may have already taken down one of the four majors in the United States.

That’s according to TKO Group Holdings president Mark Shapiro, who addressed the tremendous growth UFC has seen over the past few years, especially in the aftermath of the global pandemic. UFC has continued to produce record revenue year after year, with dozens of sold out events, the addition of several huge sponsorships, and television ratings that apparently crush the sport of hockey.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in sports in my career, I’m getting old now, and once in a while you hear — you used to hear it more often than you do now — but it used to be the four majors,” Shapiro said referencing football, basketball, baseball, and hockey while appearing at the Morgan Stanley Tech, Media, and Telecom conference on Wednesday. “The four majors. Frankly, what are you talking about?

“UFC is now not only mainstream, but it’s one of the four majors. The ratings on ESPN and ESPN2, apples to apples against the NHL — even including the playoffs, we dwarf them.”

Shapiro said the ratings that UFC produces compared to the NHL aren’t even close, which is why he believes MMA now surpasses hockey as one of the biggest sports in the U.S.

“You put a Fight Night, not a pay-per-view, not a preliminary bout in front of the pay-per-view, a regularly weekly Fight Night on ESPN — does double digit ratings, beats [the ratings] against the NHL,” Shapiro said. “The demos are anywhere from 20 to 40 percent up.

“Not to smack [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman or anything, I love the NHL, I’m a huge Chicago Blackhawks fan, but they’re just not in our league. That’s just not the case.”

Of course, a huge part of UFC’s business remains behind a paywall through a subscription based service at ESPN+, not to mention monthly pay-per-views, which produce a huge amount of revenue for the company.

That’s why Shapiro made sure to specifically identify UFC cards that currently air on ESPN when comparing the ratings the promotion produces to hockey games in the NHL.

“Keep in mind when I rattle off those ratings, that doesn’t include what we’re doing on ESPN+, which they’re not publishing,” Shapiro said. “We’re that much bigger. So we’re in a great place.”

Shapiro will look to further back up those comments when UFC begins negotiations on a new TV deal later this year, with the promotion’s broadcast agreement with ESPN set to come to a close in 2025.

When the NHL inked a new seven-year deal with ESPN in 2021 that included rights for 25 games, half the playoffs each season, and the Stanley Cup finals in four of the seven years, the Disney owned network reportedly ponied up around $400 million per year.

Many believe the UFC will be looking for a massive increase in sports rights fees when negotiations begin on a new broadcast rights deal, with the promotion potentially seeking more than $3 billion for a multi-year contract.