(Head of UFC UK operations, Marshall Zelaznik)
The eleven months since the last UK event – and almost two years since the UFC last hit the capital – have obviously left British fans yearning for the promotion to come back to these shores, as Marshall Zelaznik revealed that the UFC 120 event and Fan Expo will be the highest grossing and highest attended in the UK and Europe to date.
The head of UK operations stated that expo sales have even outdone that of the momentous UFC 100 event – a huge coup for the UK arm of the company.
“This will be the highest grossing and highest attended event in Europe – it’s a testament to how big this sport is getting,” he announced, twenty-four hours before proceedings were to get underway.
The positive reaction to the first UK Expo should indicate that the UFC are planning to become more active in Britain after the recent lull.
Although there are always doubters, Zelaznik revealed that the team were confident it would be a triumph from the minute it was planned:
“I don’t think we ever had a doubt that this would be a successful event so it’s not as if we stand here saying ‘we overcame something’ because we were optimistic that we would do well from the outset.
“However, I can say that with how ticket sales and everything for the event and the expo have gone, we’re very happy as a group. The TV companies are really ecstatic with how things are going here so this is just a testament to the growth of the sport and the success of the UFC. It certainly bodes well for the success of the UFC here and our relationships with our TV partners, and the longevity of those relationships.”
The reference to TV partners incited questions about the UFC moving to Sky Sports, and possibly to pay-per-view, but Zelaznik was quick to dismiss that and affirm that the current standing with ESPN wasn’t about to expire any time soon.
“Obviously evceryone in the US knows the success we have as a company on PPV but we’re in the early stages of a three year deal with ESPN. The ESPN management have been very supportive of us.”
As he noted, having The Ultimate Fighter on Sky Sports opens up the sport to a whole new sect of sports fans, which in turn increases awareness and helps the UFC brand to grow. The top brass within the company have the British market in their minds, and Zelaznik confirmed that they’re once again wanting to make the big push and find a viable way to hold more cards in Blighty. He wouldn’t refute the suggestion that possible Fight Nights cards could come in 2011 to smaller arenas in the likes of Liverpool and Nottingham, and there were big plans in the offing.
“When we launched we did three events [in a year], then we did two. This was our first event in 11 months; it’s been far too long. We’re trying to figure out a business model that makes sense to bring more regular events here and we’re trying to put all those pieces together now, but Dana[White] and Lorenzo [Fertitta] are committed to try and make that happen here.”
A phenomenal and ground breaking weekend is well underway with the event taking place at the O2 arena tonight, but these words will also make fans think positively about the future of the UFC in the UK. The fans are turning out in their droves and selling out arenas for every event, so let’s hope the “big announcements” work towards satiating their appetite for more domestic action from the company.