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Adam Kelly, head of global sales, IMG
Interview with Adam Kelly, head of global sales at IMG, on media-rights sales for Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor and the wider impact of the event.
Have you ever experienced demand like this for a one-off event from broadcasters and pay-per-view companies around the world?
In terms of a one off event, absolutely not. I think, in terms of the particular set up, this fight was one-of-a-kind; completely unique. The demand exceeded all our expectations. This smashed through every one of even our higher end forecasts. There has been spectacular demand and response from the broadcast world across every kind of platform – traditional broadcast, new platforms and pay-per-view. The demand in the build-up to the fight and as we were closing the deals was unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
How did you coordinate such a huge sales operation in such a short space of time?
Outside of the US and Canada we were in the sole position of negotiating and bringing deals to the core promotion unit – the overall cooperation between WME/IMG, the UFC, Mayweather Promotions and Showtime – and we did what we always do.
We had an overall lead person, which was myself, plugging into IMG’s global network of sales executives. There are 200 people involved in media sales and distribution, and we blasted everyone! We had three-and-a-half weeks to sell the fight – not very long at all – and we agreed 63 deals and arrangements, distributing across every single market on the planet. Every market was covered. Over 200 territories. Essentially every territory as you would wish to define it.
How much did the demand come down to how this was marketed and how much involvement did you have in promotion and marketing, from the initial jabs and conversations a year ago, to the press conferences, world tour and marketing territory by territory?
I can’t siphon off credit for particular elements, but it’s clear Conor and Floyd started this between the two of them. It’s an indication of how the social media environment can influence and impact our traditional media world. It’s transitioned into something completely different. This event started in the social space and was then amplified by the expertise we have at the UFC, WME/IMG, Showtime and Mayweather Promotions. The way this cut through the global conversation is unlike anything that’s ever happened before. Credit goes to the whole group, and particularly the two media companies that are Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.
How would you compare demand for this event with Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko, or Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao?
I can’t say how the broadcasters view this, but from my perspective we saw significantly increased demand, comparing the results and feedback we had from Joshua vs Klitschko, for which we handled all the international marketing and media.
Mayweather vs. Pacquiao was handled by Mayweather Promotions, primarily, and we had information and feedback from them as well. We always felt we were tracking at the very top end of demand and certainly expected to exceed Joshua vs. Klitschko. The difference between that fight and Mayweather vs. Pacquiao is very significant, and we expected to exceed Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. In almost every single territory we have done so.
The commercial success of this event is expected to be unparalleled. Will this influence or impact the commercial activity around the UFC, and do you think this will have an impact, positive or negative, on the UFC’s rights negotiations going forward?
We are very confident this will have a very significant positive impact on the overall commercial activity surrounding the UFC. I think in terms of Conor’s performance, I don’t think he could have done any better. To have someone who is that much of a personality, who has shown how much of an entertainer he is, and how much conversation he can start on his own reflects incredibly well on the UFC. Look at some of the social media reports: traffic for Conor, who has been in the game a handful of years, was significantly higher than the traffic for Floyd.
There is huge interest around Conor, which is a huge positive uptick for the UFC, and I would fully expect him to be taking part in UFC in the future. There’s going to be a huge amount of interest in him after he competed with Mayweather in the fight, and to see him competing in the discipline he specialises in is going to be very interesting for a huge number of people around the world.
Has this event inspired anyone at IMG or at the UFC to consider other crossover events or marquee events within the UFC structure? Has the demand and commercial upside of this event changed the way you think about how the UFC should be managed?
The people at the UFC think about every combination and permutation of everything, all the time. They are incredible strategists. The simple answer is that they will look at every option and will continue to do so. I don’t think this particularly changes anything in terms of the overall plan and structure.
In terms of crossover events, I think people have probably had enough of that for now. This was an important event, a great event, but I don’t see there being an enormous further additional appetite for seeing other boxers face other mixed martial artists.
I don’t think the world is crying out for more crossover events. I think the world is crying out for more UFC, and I think there’s going be a huge interest in big, headline UFC events. There’s a lot of additional people who have just been educated about the UFC brand, and about the talent of one of its stars.
IMG picked up international rights outside the US and Canada, and I was wondering how these rights were allocated to IMG. Was your allocation part of the wider fight negotiation or done separately?
We were put forward as the best possible outfit to handle the distribution. If you speak to any of the stakeholders involved they will agree that we have maximised the value. I can personally say this because I had about 150 calls with representatives from the decision-making committee, and they were assured by me – and in turn by the executive team, the heads of regions and the executive team on the ground – that we did not leave a dollar on the table. Every revenue share, every allocation, every license fee was the absolute maximum we could have earned. We’ve heard some of the provisional results being extremely strong and every broadcaster, to a channel, will tell you they’re extremely happy with the results.
Did it make any difference to you whether an outlet was seeking a pay-per-view deal or linear deal? Did you prefer the idea of revenue shares on PPV in major markets, or would you have taken a linear deal should the rights fee have been enough?
I think in the ideal world, if we could have had a pay-per-view option in every single territory, with wide-reaching platforms, we would have done so. Not every market is capable, but we created a number of innovative partnerships which, when we are ready and able to issue a press release, will come to the fore. But the pay-per-view value? It was many, many times the value a traditional operator would have been able to pay as a licence fee.
The consumer response and the ability to monetise directly with consumers was absolutely there. The reality was a combination – we did deals based on traditional licence fees, and we had deals with the big pay-per-view companies in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Nordics. In every case, the results were incredibly strong; on the licence fees we generated significant revenue.
There was also a third way, where broadcasters or platforms which had never experimented with pay-per-view came up with creative new business models to deliver either an exact pay-per-view or a quasi pay-per-view model. Via that third way we’d be paid a bonus against the number of sign ups, subscriptions or viewers. Broadcasters went above and beyond to be creative so they could be a part of it. Everybody wanted to be part of this amazing phenomenon. The ones that were creative and got on board have seen spectacular results.