Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel defended fighter pay for UFC athletes when asked about ongoing criticisms from people like Jake Paul during an earnings call with investors on Wednesday.
Ahead of the call, Endeavor — the parent company to the UFC — released fourth-quarter and final year earnings results for 2021, with the mixed martial arts promotion once again returning record numbers.
According to a release, Endeavor stated that the “UFC delivered its best financial year in its 28-year history.”
When Brandon Ross from Lightshed Partners pushed back about criticisms from the social influencer-turned-boxer Paul about record revenues compared to the overall share being paid back to the fighters, Emanuel shut down the discussion rather emphatically.
“I’m not commenting on that,” Emanuel said. “I think we’ve done very well as it relates to the pay for the fighters.”
Based on records made available through an ongoing class action lawsuit from numerous ex-UFC fighters, the promotion has approximately paid out 16 to 20 percent of the revenue to the athletes. Most other major sports leagues — including the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball — pay out around 50 percent of the revenue to the athletes.
When the question was first raised during the call, Endeavor chief financial officer Jason Lublin pointed towards the overall growth of fighter pay in the UFC since 2005.
“We’ve increased fighter pay 600 percent since 2005,” Lublin said. “We’re investing in the business with performance institutes, food, recovery. We think we’ve done very, very well.
“As the revenue for the business increases, it has only benefited that business, and we’ve grown and the sport has grown and fighter pay has grown too. As I said, how much it’s gone up since 2005.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Paul had stated that he planned on joining the earnings call after he made a financial investment in Endeavor through a stock purchase. While he has no influence whatsoever on decisions being made at Endeavor, Paul was still adamant about the pressure being put on the company where fighter pay is concerned.
“Ari Emanuel asked about fighter [compensation] and benefits driven by the attention Jake Paul is bringing to it by LightShed — Ari refused to comment on the concern around percentage paid to UFC fighters versus other athletes in other leagues,” Paul wrote on Twitter. “Change is coming y’all.”
Live from the UFC call: Ari Emanuel asked about fighter comp and benefits driven by the attention JAKE PAUL is bringing to it by LightShed
Ari refused to comment on the concern around percentage paid to UFC fighters versus other athletes in other leagues
Change is coming y’all
— Jake Paul (@jakepaul) March 16, 2022
Paul has taken aim at fighter pay in the UFC ever since he first started dabbling in combat sports, often getting into public spats with UFC president Dana White through interviews and social media.
His comments on Wednesday came just before Endeavor released the results from the fourth quarter in 2021 as well as the full year results.
Endeavor reported that its owned sports properties, led by the UFC, produced $277.3 million in revenue for the fourth quarter, which is up 3 percent for the same time period in 2020, while also earning $1.1 billion in revenue for the year — an impressive 16-percent increase.
It was also highlighted on the call on Wednesday that the UFC has seen additional increases thanks to sponsorship deals struck with outlets such as Crypto.com and DraftKings, with UFC Fight Pass also experiencing 30 percent growth in 2021.
The UFC has also been a “key driver” for ESPN+ subscriptions as part of the promotion’s overall deal with the Disney-owned company. Emanuel additionally noted on the call that the UFC has three years remaining on the deal with ESPN and the partnership has been nothing but fruitful for all parties involved.
Rights fees for the UFC internationally have also been a boost to the overall revenue increases.
The positive results from the UFC certainly helped Endeavor over the entire year after the company when public for the first time. Endeavor Group Holdings is currently trading at nearly $28 per share.
“In our first year as a public company, we saw significant outperformance across our portfolio as the world began to emerge from the pandemic, with increased attendance at live events and continued heightened demand for premium content,” Emanuel said in his initial statement about Endeavor’s earnings for the year.
“Given the unique position we occupy in the content landscape, we remain confident about our ability to continue leveraging trends, unlocking growth, and delivering long-term value.”