Saturday September 30, 2023

Professional Fighters League in Discussions to Acquire Bellator

  • Bellator is valued at as much as $500M in the ongoing discussion with PFL.
  • PFL received a $100M investment from Saudi Arabia's PIF this year.
PFL Bellator
PFL, Bellator MMA
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The Professional Fighters League is in talks to purchase competitor Bellator MMA from Paramount, two sources with knowledge of the discussions told Front Office Sports.

Bellator is valued at as much as $500 million in the deal, and the transaction would be primarily in cash, with Paramount receiving some equity in PFL. The two sources cautioned the deal could fall through, and it hasn’t been determined how PFL and Bellator would operate if there is a completed transaction. 

PFL had a valuation between $500 million and $1 billion last year. That estimate was before the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund invested $100 million in PFL through its new sports investment arm, SRJ Sports Investments. 

According to one source, that investment was reported this week but closed about six months ago. 

Bellator has been owned by Paramount since it launch in 2008 and led by veteran MMA executive Scott Coker since 2014. The organization is inching toward 300 events with its fights broadcast on Showtime after having its fights on other Paramount channels like CBS Sports Network. 

Bellator referred FOS to Paramount when reached about the potential sale. Paramount declined comment, as did PFL. 

Given its more extended history, Bellator is the second-most recognizable MMA league in the U.S. to UFC, but there’s quite a distance between the two.

Endeavor purchased a controlling interest in UFC for $4 billion in 2016. It has since acquired all of UFC. 

Endeavor purchased WWE earlier this year and then spun off the dominant pro wrestling and MMA organizations into TKO Group Holdings Inc. TKO Group Holdings Inc. — valuing WWE at $9.3 billion and UFC at $12.1 billion — will be its publicly traded company when the merger becomes final. 

PFL’s history begins with the World Series of Fighting, launched in 2012. In 2017, World Series of Fighting was acquired by an investment group that includes current Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Washington Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis. Marshawn Lynch and Alex Rodriguez have invested in PFL in the years since the acquisition. 

PFL is a throwback to the very early days of the UFC with a tournament format, although it doesn’t occur in one night like the UFC once did. However, PFL has been looking to break out of that format recently. 

PFL signed Francis Ngannou as the lead fighter to make that next play into the pay-per-view market. Ngannou exited UFC as the heavyweight, although he is not expected to make his PFL debut until next year. 

PFL — broadcast on ESPN’s platforms — focuses on international expansion and will hold PPV events in Saudi Arabia, per the terms of the PIF investment. 

PFL Europe started earlier this year, and Ngannou discussed a future PFL league in his native Africa. 

“I really want to bring something back home,” Ngannou told FOS in June. “For an athlete, you want to get something and bring it back to your people. But none of that was ever considered.”

Likely, UFC executives are closely following what happens to PFL and Bellator — along with Singapore-based One Championship —  as it seeks to defend against fighter pay lawsuits.

One of the long-running lawsuits over claims that UFC exerted its dominance in the sport to keep fighter pay low was granted partial class certification earlier this month. More than a thousand fighters were in the class certified by a federal judge in Nevada who fought in UFC between December 2010 and June 2017. 

UFC is in the process of appealing that decision. 

“However dismissive [the] plaintiffs are about the current and rapidly changing competitive landscape, those assertions are not based on a factual record,” lawyers for UFC wrote in an Aug. 20 filing. “Additional discovery is necessary to allow [UFC] to demonstrate at any trial that Zuffa faces real competition from other MMA promoters. Plaintiffs’ monopsony claims are belied by the numerous competitors to the UFC competing to attract athletes and many of which are backed by well-funded media companies and have established television distribution.”

Another class of more recent UFC fighters could receive certification in the coming months.

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