UFC betting: How popular is it?

July 25, 2023

Gaming America speaks with Lawrence Epstein, COO of the UFC and Ali Schempp, SVP and Head of Business Development at US Integrity, about the growing interest in UFC betting.

With UFC betting growing in popularity in recent years, what are the reasons behind its rise, how can it keep that momentum going but has it made enough of an impact to be considered by major operators? Gaming America explores…

The UFC opened its cage doors on November 12 1993 with UFC 1 as its first show.

Originally the fight promotion was a no-holds-barred contest between different fighting styles. However, when the UFC wanted to be taken more seriously, it introduced a ruleset and regulations. 

UFC betting growth

Since the UFC launched 30 years ago, bringing mixed martial arts from a minority sport to one of the more recognized sports in the world has been a slow process. However, sports betting has made the competition more entertaining for spectators. Thanks to gambling sponsors, MMA promotions like the UFC, can now grow faster. Ali Schempp, SVP and Head of Business Development at US Integrity, tells Gaming America,

“UFC is one of the fastest-growing sports in terms of not just popularity, but sheer betting on the sport. We’re seeing increasingly more betting engagement, especially as more and more jurisdictions come online in the US.”

The UFC has over 700 million fans worldwide who are loyal to the UFC  brand. It produces more than 40 events and 500 bouts per year, with a roster of athletes from more than 75 countries. The UFC has no off-season and covers multiple demographics and time zones, potentially making UFC wagering more appealing for people all around the world. UFC SEVP & COO Lawrence Epstein tells Gaming America,

“MMA betting has seen meaningful growth in the past five years and with UFC’s status as the world’s premier MMA organization, we are continuing to see growth in this space. GGR for UFC has grown at an estimated CAGR of over 18%. The regulatory changes in the global betting landscape, particularly in the US, would point to this trend continuing – if not increasing.”

The growth in UFC betting is catching up with other sports. Schempp said, “Betting on the UFC is very popular. I’d say some UFC pay-per-views are currently on par with notable marquee events, like golf majors; some even surpassed that. So although they may not be an NFL playoff game yet, the UFC is one of the faster-growing sports.

"It doesn’t pull in the handle of an NBA final game or an NFL playoff game, but in terms of growth, it’s certainly among the top movers.”

Location of UFC bettors

Popular US locations of UFC bettors often coincide with the overall betting volume of each state. Schempp states that New Jersey, New York and Ohio are popular UFC betting states due to their sheer amount of bettors. However, Nevada – home to the UFC Octagon –  also has high UFC betting rates, due to both fans and locals betting when the events are on.

He expands, "Nevada still does very good numbers because you have a lot of people traveling here for UFC events, whether they attend them or whether they go to a local UFC watch party. Locals are betting on it, so are people from California. For as long as California is not going to have regulated sports betting, you’re still going to get a massive rush of Californians that come to Nevada for betting and a lot of that will be for UFC betting.” 

Increased exposure via the help of betting partners 

The UFC has a range of global and regional betting sponsors, including bet365 (UK/IRE), DraftKings (US and Canada), Stake.com (LatAm and Asia), and Neds/Entain (Australia), with “additional potential partnerships under discussion” Epstein recounts. 

The exec continues, “Our betting partners have seen combat sports – and UFC in particular – evolve from a niche offering to a high-demand category with significant growth potential. For UFC and our betting partners, we also collaborate on meaningful brand activations that can enhance the fan experience, like in-broadcast odds integrations and digital content that highlights upcoming bouts.

"It’s worth noting that the UFC embraced betting very early on, as we saw it as a great fan engagement opportunity. In fact, UFC became one of the first sports to incorporate odds as part of its broadcast and website as early as 2013. We have long believed that wagering on UFC events is likely the most impactful way we can activate our existing fanbase, and add new fans to the UFC ecosystem.”

Betting has clearly played a huge part in the exposure, growth and popularity of the fight promotion. Perhaps the reason the UFC is so far ahead of other MMA promotions is because it was the first to add odds?

Keeping on top of unusual wagering activity 

With an increase in wagering comes an increase in unusual wagering. The UFC recently partnered with US Integrity to help monitor nefarious betting behavior and make sure its betting integrity remains at a high standard. Schempp explains, “The UFC seems to be taking not just the integrity of the sport extremely seriously, but the education aspect of it as well  –  educating the athletes, the trainers, coaching staff and even employees.”

Schempp states there is an obvious correlation between increased betting handle and an increase in unusual betting, but believes there is no direct link between particular events and unusual betting. “People are far more likely to watch an event if they are wagering on it.”

The future of MMA betting 

Inevitably, the more states legalize sports betting, the more states will take part in betting on the UFC. Schempp expands, “More betting offered on the UFC means more books get comfortable with putting up new markets, new props, new options, expanding the menu and we’ve seen that with DraftKings.” Epstein comments,

“More than 50% of UFC’s events take place in the US, which is a quickly changing betting market estimated to be worth potentially $21bn by 2026. So that timeframe is becoming a key driver of UFC betting growth.” 

Alongside the legalization of sports betting in the US, Epstein also believes the popularity of UFC wagering is linked to the enhanced betting experience that is offered to bettors, “The increased handle will be driven by the consumer’s overall betting experience.

Increasing the number of markets and enhancing the in-play experience via in-depth statistics and visualizations, as well as integrating sports betting into broadcast and media, will likely grow handle as UFC fans become more mature betting consumers.” 

Overall, it is clear that over the past five years, UFC betting has risen – and remains on the rise, with fans and fighters located all over the world feeding into the UFC betting machine. The rise in popularity of UFC betting is in respect to the legalization of sports betting in the US, the collaboration with operators, its early entry into the industry and its worldwide appeal has been growing since the '90s. The UFC got there first. But, naturally, to achieve a knockout blow, there is still a way to go to challenge the very biggest sports.  



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