UFC's Lawrence Epstein says region is a high priority and potentially lucrative for the sport
The Middle East is “a very important” market for the UFC, making it a high priority when it comes to tailoring content for the region, according to UFC executive vice president Lawrence Epstein.
Speaking to Arabian Business on Thursday, Epstein said that the Middle East’s important to UFC stems from its vast - and potentially lucrative - population of young enthusiasts and potential fans.
“First of all, there’s a huge population. Second of all, it’s a young population with discretionary income and an affinity for the sport,” he said. “There’s all these really positive things that make it important for the UFC going forward.”
In April, the UFC and the Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi) announced a five-year partnership that that will see it hold more events in the future, following the upcoming UFC 242 on Saturday. The UFC held its first events in the city in 2010 and 2014.
“We have a great history with them,” Epstein said. “They’ve been our partners for a decade.”
Abu Dhabi “is a good fit” for UFC, Epstein said, because of its “incredible” infrastructure and facilities.
“It’s also a great place to broadcast our content around the region,” he said.
The UFC’s presence in the region, Epstein added, has been given a “huge” boost by the success of Russian fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, who will defend his status as UFC lightweight champion against Dustin Poirier at UFC 242. Nurmagomedov is widely considered as a fan favourite in the Middle East.
“We’ve done events here in the past, bringing in global UFC stars, and that’s been very successful,” he said. “But having an athlete that’s both a star and has a local following is even better.
“He’s a Muslim athlete and has spent a lot of time in the region. That makes him really attractive here,” he added. “Our goal is to expose as many people to the sport of MMA and the UFC brand. Having an athlete cut through and that gets people interested in a particular region is going to help us accelerate that growth.”
Additionally, Epstein said that the UFC’s increasingly young audience - particularly in the Middle East - makes digital content particularly important.
“This is an issue that we’re dealing with head on around the world. People are changing the way they consume content,” he said. “When I was growing up it was all TV, and I’d watch all my sporting events on television. Fast forward and that’s not the case.”
In April 2019, Abu Dhabi Media and the UFC announced a new broadcast partnership to provide access to all live UFC events and non-live programming as part of a multi-year agreement. In July, the announcement was followed by the unveiling of the ‘UFC Arabia’ app that includes live access to fights and hundreds of hours of programming.
“More and more people are watching on their phones and other devices, so you have to be able to distribute content to any place where they consumer wants to watch it,” Epstein said.
“One of the great things is that it allows us to customise content for the consumer in the way they want to consume it. That [could be] language, featuring fighters they might be more interested in, and providing a full library of content that you can watch anytime,” he added. “That helps us connect with every single consumer.”