As MMA fans entered fight week for UFC 287 and the wrestling world cast its attention to night two of Wrestlemania, news breaking of a merger between the two giants raised eyebrows and questions.
As the dust has begun to settle on the deal, few details have yet to emerge, causing many fans to speculate of its impact on both brands and how they operate.
One of the key questions remains media rights – will the two brand intertwining lead to a united media rights approach?
Both have their own platforms, however, the WWE’s Network plays a slightly bigger role in its overall broadcasting picture, with it providing coverage of every Pay-Per-View event. In the US, WWE has a deal with NBCUniversal and Fox, the UFC boasts a thriving deal with ESPN.
One of the key differences between the way the two firms distribute broadcasting rights is via US delivery of PPVs, with UFC charging $79.99 for this weekend’s UFC 287 card – significantly more than WWE PPVs.
Meanwhile, in the UK both are broadcast on BT Sport, and a different PPV model is applied partly due to the start times of many UFC events and consumers in the UK not being accustomed to paying more than £25 for one-off sporting events.
A key question, however, for wrestling fans will be whether the WWE maintains its approach to PPVs through the network or looks to adopt the approach of the UFC.
In the US, the WWE’s deal with NBC expires in 2026 and the UFC’s deal with ESPN culminates in 2025 – with quotes from Vince McMahon indicating that a more synchronized approach to media rights is looming on the horizon, as he outlined ambitions to maximise ‘combined media rights’.
Whilst we aren’t going to see mixed martial artists competing in a ladder match anytime soon, the opportunity for crossover marketing is exponential and relatively untapped at the moment.
In announcing the deal, Endeavor underlined the reach of the two brands and a crossover audience. Through a creative approach the ability to market at events of the other brand can be a significant boost and enable them to engage a new demographic of fans.
This could be argued as more of an opportunity for the UFC, with many of the promotion’s fans already aware of the WWE, whereas the path for WWE fans to gravitate towards the UFC is more advantageous.
With both leading the way in terms of sporting entities that produce their own content and have their own network, the potential for crossover content is monumental and something highlighted by McMahon in his statement welcoming the deal.
For UFC athletes, endearing themselves to wider audiences can undoubtedly raise the ceiling in terms of the level of stardom they can reach and subsequently bolster their sponsorship and commercial value remarkably.
Immediately off the back of the deal, it was lauded by Conor McGregor, who went back and forth with WWE’s Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns – teasing a potential collision down the line, which would captivate both audiences.
A future for Vince
Having departed the company amid a myriad of misconduct revelations earlier in the year, it appears that Endeavour taking hold of the company has provided a route back for founder Vince McMahon.
What this means for WWE governance and creative control is a question that has had fans talking since the taking over, with his son-in-law and WWE legend Paul Levesque (Triple H) having taken the reins, during a spell that won the approval of fans in McMahon’s absence.
Furthermore, whilst UFC President Dana White also came out and praised the merger and what it means for the company, how he and McMahon may work together is a dynamic that also has fans intrigued.
The Middle Eastern influence
The Saudi Arabian influence on WWE has evolved rapidly in recent years, with key events taking place in the region – it led to strong speculation that the WWE would be purchased by a Saudi consortium.
Meanwhile, during the pandemic the UFC developed a strong relationship with Abu Dhabi, integrating a ‘Fight Island’ in the region in order to host events during the pandemic. The UFC is set to head back there with a PPV event in October.
In 2019, a $400 million investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was returned from from Endeavor following the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, which will cause many to ponder whether the entity which owns the WWE will be as receptive to Saudi influence as it has been in recent years?
Could the WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia also be impacted by investor interests in the country missing out on acquiring the firm? Or will WWE continue to have a flourishing relationship with the oil-rich territory?
Is there a chance we see a synchronised strategy from the WWE and the UFC in terms of evolving and maximising the relationship with the Middle East?