One of the many things I didn’t really delve into in my story about UFC’s dominance of mixed martial arts is what the future of the sport holds, from a business perspective. It seems clear that UFC now has a stronghold on things while other smaller leagues are basically living event to event.
The question, of course, is whether the sport of MMA and its fans are best-served by having things stay this way. I asked several people in the industry about the idea of consolidation, and got mixed responses.
Some said it would be a good thing if UFC simply gobbled up most of the other rival leagues, leaving a single entity to represent the entire sport. That would make MMA similar to most major sports leagues like Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL. Even open wheel auto racing this year decided to merge itself when the Indy Racing League took over Champ Car. A single league would leave no confusion about where to find the best fighters.
But others in the industry said consolidation isn’t as necessary as cross-promotion and collaboration among leagues. In fact, they said consolidation will actually hurt the sport, because it will decrease the number of fighters given an opportunity.
“It is too early in the process for consolidation in the business – so far acquisitions by some of the big players have not helped grow the sport at all,” said Andrew Simon, the CEO of HDNet Fights. “We still have to get to the point where fighters have an established means of earning a living and following their dreams. Recently UFC had to cut the roster or face not give fighters contracted fights, leaving them with questions about their futures. Entrepreneurs need to grow the industry and establish a viable market that can support at least 500 quality fighters, and probably many more. The numerous organizations need to continue to partner together and allow fighters to work between promotions rather than consolidate.”
Surprisingly, some MMA observers said that the sport of boxing offers a model for how things should be done. Boxing has its problems, with the alphabet soup of organizations and a dearth of good fighters in certain divisions. But promoters appear perfectly willing to set up a bout between two top fighters if fans expect it.