Bloody Elbow obtained the official ticket report for WSOF 34 on New Year’s Eve.
As Dec. 31, 2016 approached, the big MMA experiment was how a known promotion would sell on New Year’s Eve, a question that hadn’t yet been answered in the United States.
For months, the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) promoted a year-end “mega-event” at The Theater at Madison Square Garden which, following the cancellation of November and December shows, would eventually turn into a four-title quadruple-header featuring lightweight kingpin Justin Gaethje, welterweight champ and former UFC contender Jon Fitch, bantamweight buzz saw Marlon Moraes, and middleweight champ David Branch.
Some in the MMA community had wondered if the WSOF would stay in business much longer, making WSOF 34 in NYC a possible make-or-break moment. When the returns came in, WSOF said the event “sold out,” journalists called The Theater at MSG “packed,” WSOF CEO Carlos Silva declared he was “done with all the haters,” and MMA journalist Mike Russell noted that attendance was claimed to be at 5,000.
Anyone have WSOF NYE attendance #s? Carlos Silva said 5k. Seems a bit padded.
— Mike Russell (@MIKERUSSELLMMA) January 1, 2017
Promoters will promote, but tax documents are official records of what actually went down that night. Bloody Elbow recently obtained the Authorized Combative Sports Tax Return for WSOF 34 from the New York Department of Taxation and Finance via a public records request.
According to WSOF’s tax return, nearly two out of every three tickets were given away for free (64%). The return shows only one ticket price, $67.28, and lists 2,899 complimentary tickets, leaving 1,658 tickets sold to generate $111,545.68 in gross ticket revenue. 4,557 tickets were issued in total, likely where the 5,000 number came from after rounding up.
Total gross receipts from broadcasting rights were listed as “0” even though the main card was broadcast on NBC and preliminary card on NBCSN, so any license fees that might’ve been part WSOF’s NBC deal don’t seem to have applied to this event.
Combined with public records for events Bloody Elbow previously obtained, WSOF’s 2016 ticket sales can be seen in the table below.
The WSOF 34 mega-event with four title fights didn’t generate the promotion’s largest number of ticket sales for the year but it did drive the most ticket revenue, approximately $36,000-$54,000 more than any other documented show. To get a packed atmosphere, it appears WSOF executives issued 260% more comps than their previous 2016 documented record at WSOF 32 in Washington.
The New York tax return for WSOF 35 in Verona, NY was not available as of this writing.
In January, 60% of the WSOF was reportedly sold to a new group of investors including hedge fund manager Russ Ramsey and venture capitalists Donn Davis and Mark Leschl. Shortly thereafter, plans were announced to rebrand as the Professional Fighters League (PFL) featuring a regular season, playoff, and championship format.
Early PFL media discussions haven’t been terribly kind, but time will tell if WSOF/PFL execs can ride the wave of momentum from their New Year’s Eve super show to future PFL success.
Paul writes about MMA analytics and business for Bloody Elbow. Follow him @MMAanalytics.