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PFL founder targets growth

By Adam Stern
PFL recently re-signed Kayla Harrison.PFL

The Professional Fighters League will take in more than $10 million in sponsor revenue this year, according to founder and Chairman Donn Davis, who insists the league is emerging as the clear No. 2 mixed martial arts property after UFC.

 

Davis is the former AOL executive who co founded PFL in 2017 after his group bought the World Series of Fighting and rebranded it. The first year under the PFL banner was 2018.

Last week, Davis said the company is starting to focus more on bringing in revenue, as well as being a first-mover with new technology. He said that now in only its second year of selling sponsorships, PFL will have around 24 partners this year including Bud Light, Geico and IBM.

“[MMA] is now really taking off as a mass sport and that’s an exciting time,” Davis said, comparing the rise of the sport to how he felt when he was investing in the rise of the internet with AOL. “When that happens, you have new disruptive companies that come in, new revenue streams and global expansion.”

There are two dozen investors in PFL — including Monumental Sports’ Ted Leonsis and Riot Games’ Brandon Beck — and it has raised $200 million in capital to date, according to Davis.

While UFC is clearly the dominant MMA property, other competitors in the space include PFL as well as Bellator, ONE Championship, Eagle FC and Invicta FC.

Davis said there are 600 million MMA fans globally so there’s room for more than one winner. “Like soccer, MMA is global and there’s not going to be just one winner — UFC is just the first winner,” he said. “This will be like soccer with a handful of big companies or leagues, and PFL is going to be the second big company.”

As for PFL’s global ambitions, Davis said the league is more focused on holding events in front of midsized crowds in the U.S. but broadcasting the fights all over the world than it is looking to hold events in other countries on a constant basis.

PFL, which has its U.S. media rights with ESPN, runs a unique format that features a regular season and postseason akin to stick-and-ball sports, with a $1 million payout to the champion of each weight class. It’s also starting up a new pay-per-view division for top-flight fighters who command a higher salary.

Davis said PFL will be a player in the market when it comes to top fighters who are testing free agency. This comes as UFC has been criticized for its fighter pay.

PFL recently re-signed Kayla Harrison, a two-time PFL women’s lightweight champion, and while he wouldn’t disclose specifics, Davis said she is now the highest-paid female fighter in the world on a per-fight basis, based on his conversations with agents. Meanwhile, UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou’s contract is believed to be up after this year, and while UFC has expressed confidence that Ngannou will re-sign, Davis said PFL would be ready to talk to the fighter and his representatives if the opportunity arises.

“The PFL is respectful of all companies, fighters and contracts and would never discuss anything with a fighter under contract,” he said. “What I would say is, we will be excited and willing to talk with any fighter under free agency about our new pay-per-view division.”

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