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Sports and entertainment stars join UFC ownership group

A number of high-profile names from the worlds of sport and entertainment have invested in the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts series.

Tennis players Li Na, Maria Sharapova, and Serena and Venus Williams are among the investors, along with NFL American football stars Cam Newton, who plays for the Carolina Panthers, and Tom Brady, of the New England Patriots. Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, has also invested.

Musicians, film stars and television personalities to have invested include Abel Tesfaye, Adam Levine, Anthony Kiedis, Ben Affleck, Calvin Harris, Conan O’Brien, Flea, Guy Fieri, Jimmy Kimmel, LL Cool J, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Bay, Rob Dyrdek, Sylvester Stallone, Trey Parker and Tyler Perry.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed, although US sports broadcaster ESPN reported that each celebrity would invest a minimum of $250,000 (€223,000).

The news comes following the WME-IMG agency’s acquisition of UFC in July. Under the agreement, which was reportedly worth around $4bn, WME-IMG will also serve as UFC’s operating partner. Private equity firms Silver Lake Partners and KKR joined WME-IMG as strategic investors, along with MSD Capital and MSD Partners, which will provide preferred equity financing.

The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported that WMG-IMG co-chief executive Ari Emmanuel sought celebrities he “knew to be fans of the sport” to join UFC’s ownership group.

“Expanding our ownership group to include this calibre of talent and entrepreneurs is a strong indicator of UFC’s fast-growing global presence,” UFC president Dana White said. “Our new investors bring an incredible depth of knowledge and experience to help us continue to elevate this brand and capitalise on its entertainment and sports crossover appeal."

Comedian and TV presenter O’Brien added: “Recently, entertainment giants IMG and William Morris Endeavor (WME) purchased the UFC. It was one of the biggest transactions in the entire history of sports. I happen to be represented by William Morris Endeavor, and these guys do a terrific job.

“After the UFC deal was announced, WME gave some of their clients an opportunity to purchase a small ownership stake in the UFC, and I’m excited to say that I’m one of those clients.”