Cam Newton, Venus and Serena Williams, Tyler Perry and LL Cool J bring black star power to UFC
These celebrities are among 23 new investors who may help shape the sport for blacks
In July it was announced that the big Hollywood talent agency WME-IMG purchased mixed martial arts company UFC in a $4 billion deal — the largest single financial transaction in sports history.
On Friday, the agency disclosed the list of celebrities, which includes a few big-name minority owners. Sources told ESPN’s Dan Rovell that each person bought in a minimum investment of $250,000 to help secure the $4 billion acquisition deal.
For Hispanics and blacks, boxing beats UFC in viewership. The big question is whether the inclusion of black celebrities will help expand viewership and participation of minorities in the UFC market and solidify it as more mainstream.
Of FS1’s UFC audience, 11.4 percent is black, 16.3 percent is Hispanic while white men dominate nearly 73 percent of viewers. (Fox Sports Media Group owns the television rights to all UFC television programming.) This involvement of black star power just might add some color to the spectrum.
Joining Cam Newton, Venus and Serena Williams, Tyler Perry and LL Cool J are celebs Ben Affleck, The Weeknd, Sylvester Stallone and Mark Wahlberg; musicians Calvin Harris, Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; Adam Levine; NFL quarterback Tom Brady; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft; TV hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien; TV chef Guy Fieri; Hollywood directors Michael Bay and Trey Parker; tennis players Li Na and Maria Sharapova; and skateboarder Rob Dyrdek.
“Expanding our ownership group to include this caliber of talent and entrepreneurs is a strong indicator of UFC’s fast-growing global presence,” UFC president Dana White said in a statement. “Our new investors bring an incredible depth of knowledge and experience to help us continue to elevate this brand and capitalize on its entertainment and sports crossover appeal.”
The UFC has been aggressively pursuing black and Hispanic boxing fans since 2008. They signed Kimbo Slice and his ultimate reality show and they casted Rampage (Quinton Jackson) and Rashad Evans to coach Kimbo Slice in 2010. (Kimbo Slice died in June.) Its huge fan base continues to rise among white men and white women. Although blacks are interested in the sport, the numbers reveal that an increase in participation can continue to remain a goal of the UFC.
The celebrities enlisted add to the efforts to merge fighting and entertainment, as the two often go hand in hand. According to ESPN.com, in an effort to include mainstream entertainment, UFC helped promote 50 Cent’s new single Get Up during UFC 91 with a music video featuring fighters Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture. Some UFC fighters were seen with 50 Cent and LL Cool J at the 2008 Video Game Awards.
At that time, White said aligning with hip-hop artists such as 50 Cent and LL Cool J was a natural fit that could open many doors. White told ESPN.com in 2008 that it’s going to take time, when speaking of attracting more blacks to the market. “But we’re going to end up with the urban market and we’re going to end up with the Hispanic market, too. Mixed martial arts is the future. They’re eventually going to gravitate to it. They already are.”
Founded in 1993, UFC is one of the largest and fastest growing sports brands in the world, particularly among millennials. The organization produces more than 40 live events annually and is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world, broadcast in more than 156 countries and territories to nearly 1.1 billion television households worldwide in 29 languages. UFC continues to capitalize on digital distribution platforms via its wholly owned subscription over-the-top service, FIGHT PASS, delivering exclusive live events, thousands of fights on-demand and original content to fans around the globe.