UFC CEO Dana White has announced that the mixed martial arts (MMA) franchise will host fights at the Las Vegas Sphere for next year’s Mexican Independence Day event on Sep. 14, 2024. The UFC has been growing its viewership in Mexico for at least a decade, but this is the first year it has dedicated a fight card to celebrate the holiday. It will look to build on that in 2024 by leveraging the ultra-high-tech capabilities of the 20,000-person venue, which opened on Sep. 29.
A major UFC event is welcome news for the Sphere. Sphere Entertainment, the venue’s owner, and its CEO, James Dolan, are under pressure to host more shows and generate revenue to offset the massive construction costs. The Sphere came in over budget by nearly a factor of two, at $2.3 billion. It lost an additional $100 million in its first quarter of operations despite rave reviews for the inaugural concert series by Irish rockers U2.
UFC at the Sphere Could Generate High Revenue
UFC CEO Dana White promised the event would be “the greatest live combat sports show anybody has ever seen.”
However, he admitted that figuring out how to host a UFC event at the Sphere would be a “massive challenge.”
He said he welcomes the challenge. According to White, Sphere Entertainment did everything right with the opening, and it’s been a “grand slam home run.”
That said, the venue has already had its share of controversies. Beyond the long delays and exorbitant costs, it has lost three high-ranking executives in the past year, most recently including Chief Financial Officer Gautam Ranji.
Like White, Dolan has remained positive and praised U2’s residency debut. The band sold out all the initially scheduled shows, so the Sphere added 11 more running until February 2024. Resale tickets cost up to $2,400, while the cheapest limited-view seats sell for $466.
During Sphere Entertainment’s Q1 2024 earnings call, he said he expects to follow the band’s success with more residencies, events, and advertising revenue. A UFC fight card certainly matches these ambitions.
UFC’s first Mexican Independence Day event, held on September 16 at the Las Vegas T-Mobile Arena, was a massive success. The show drew an attendance of 18,766 and generated a $2.26 million paid gate, roughly translating to an average of $120 per ticket.
Given that the Sphere charges $99 and above for its Darren Aronovsky-directed A Postcard from Earth show, UFC tickets will likely cost more than those for the T-Mobile Arena event.
UFC Aligns With Shifting Vegas Visitor Demographics
Although the UFC organized its first fights in 1993, MMA is essentially a 21st-century sport. As a result, its fan base skews younger than many other sports. A recent Statista survey shows that over half of individuals under 45 are at least casual fans, compared to just over one-third of those 45 to 64 and a mere 12% of those 65 and up.
That’s convenient for Sphere Entertainment and the Venetian—the casino resort to which the Sphere is attached. A recent report shows that Las Vegas visitor age demographics are shifting downward, but casinos are looking for ways to increase that younger cohort’s interest in gambling.
According to the Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) 2022 Visitor Profile Study, the average age of visitors was 40.7 years old. That’s over a five-year drop from 2019, when the number was 46.2.
The study found that 60% of visitors are either Millenials or Generation Z, many of whom were first-time visitors. These age groups are also among the most interested in the UFC. According to strategic consultancy and marketing research firm KS&R, Millennials and older Generation Z are twice as likely to bet on UFC than older bettors.
Other findings from the LVCVA study further suggest that a UFC event at the Sphere could be successful. The study found that younger visitors are less likely to gamble but spend more on hotels, attractions, and shows. This demographic and behavior change positions the Sphere as an optimal venue for a UFC event. The cutting-edge technology could attract younger visitors who are willing to spend more.