B.J. Penn. Photo property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The most high-profile show in mixed martial arts is set to return to the East Coast this summer.
Yet August 8th will mark only the third time that the Ultimate Fighting Championship has visited the Northeastern portion of the United States since the sport’s explosion following the success of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show.
So how important is the UFC’s inaugural venture to Philadelphia?
More important than you think.
The UFC will be invading the Wachovia Center exactly four months from now, and at least from the early thoughts and opinions I’ve gathered, the show is going to be a resounding success. Sources close to the event have confirmed that calls regarding ticket information have been coming in droves daily. The buzz for the event is growing with each day and each fight that is announced, rumored, or confirmed.
With the ticket sales for UFC 100 in July starting this weekend, it’s safe to say that an official announcement regarding UFC 101 should be coming shortly. The size of the arena (which is expected to seat 20,000+ for the arena according to early estimates) will probably prevent a first-day sellout, but tickets will likely go extremely fast regardless.
On top of that, it seems that the UFC has learned from their last trip to the Northeast. UFC 78’s main event was a lackluster light heavyweight clash between “Ultimate Fighter” winners Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping, and the entire card itself wasn’t very appealing. The fans let it be known that they didn’t appreciate the UFC putting together a half-ass show, and as a result, ticket sales were slow in the weeks leading up to the event even though it eventually became a sell-out.
B.J. Penn’s return to the Octagon will create enough buzz in itself, and with the trash talk between himself and Kenny Florian already starting weeks before their fight was even signed, it’s going to make for quite a deserving main event. Forrest Griffin also returning to action on the card is a treat as well.
So why is the UFC’s first-ever trip to the City of Brotherly Love so critical for the promotion?
Location, location, location.
Philadelphia is situated less than 100 miles from New York City for those that have never looked at a map. That naturally makes it NYC’s biggest competitor in terms of sports revenue. However it’s rarely that much of a contest. Manhattan continually hosts big-name boxing matches, professional wrestling events, and the like over Philly constantly. What else can you say? It’s New York City.
However after August 8th, that trend is going to completely stop, at least in terms of mixed martial arts. While Pennsylvania finally legalized professional MMA earlier this year, the state of New York has yet to do so, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, at least if Bob Reilly has anything to do with it.
While New York politicians are battling over the political correctness of the sport, Pennsylvania is set to reap in millions of dollars by deciding to regular the sport and allow the UFC to visit Philadelphia this summer.
The facts are there. The UFC averaged $2.8 million in gate revenue in ‘07 and the number likely increased last year. The amount of money spent on fans using hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs in the surrounding area where an event is usually rakes in close to $1 million as well as hundreds of thousands in tax revenue.
In these tough economic times, why the state of New York is still content to dance around the issues that plagued MMA during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s instead of looking at the sport like dozens of other states do is beyond me.
Will a successful event in Philadelphia spark a change of direction in the ongoing battle to have MMA legalized in New York? The potential is there, but it’s up to the politicians to realize exactly what they are holding up for fans and the state alike.
If you think that the sport is getting enough mainstream coverage already, imagine kind of coverage it would get if an event were to be held at Madison Square Garden.
The UFC’s heart is in Las Vegas. It’s where Dana White and company rebuilt and saved MMA’s biggest and best organization. Yet the time for more expansion is on the horizon. Las Vegas is the perfect spot to hold the UFC’s mega-fights and a convenient locale to hold a show just in case a planned spot doesn’t work out. (See the UFC’s multiple attempts to finally get into Canada)
However the East Coast is populated by tons and tons of mixed martial arts fans. The UFC uses television ratings and pay-per-view buys to help select where they want to go for an event. They are very aware of how popular the sport is out here, and it’s the exact reason why they made such a quick decision to visit Philly so soon.
So why are East Coast-based UFC events so rare? A return to the Mohegan Sun Arena probably isn’t the best idea, but there’s really no excuse at all for not coming back to Newark, Philly, or event Washington D.C. time and time again. Hopefully they can start making that happen.
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