The UFC is increasing its presence in the sports betting industry in a big way, partnering with DraftKings on a deal that president Dana White says is one of the most important his MMA organization has ever done.
The UFC named DraftKings as its first official sportsbook and daily fantasy partner in the U.S. and Canada as part of a five-year deal announced Thursday. The deal is valued at $350 million, including marketing and cash, a source familiar with the financial terms told ESPN.
The amount of cash DraftKings will pay the UFC as part of the deal was characterized as "low nine figures," the source said, making it one of the largest sports league-sportsbook partnerships formed in recent years.
White described the new partnership as "massive" and "the most important deal we've ever done to increase engagement with our fans and reach new ones."
The partnership will intertwine the companies with in-game promotions, odds integrations during broadcasts and eventually enhanced prop bets on MMA bouts.
"I'm looking forward to all the exciting things we're to do with DraftKings over the next few years," White said in the release announcing the agreement.
Bookmakers often point to MMA as a sport that's seen significant increase in betting interest in recent years.
"Combat sports, and UFC in particular, have scaled significantly across both our sportsbook and daily fantasy verticals, evolving from a niche offering to a high-demand category that we believe will only grow further as we innovate," DraftKings CEO and co-founder Jason Robins said in the release.
Beginning at UFC 259, fans will see a DraftKings clock located on the Octagon and high-definition screens that will count down the time remaining in each round. More integrations are expected in the near future.
"One of the things we do see is more robust data-generation from UFC events that can be used in gaming," UFC COO Lawrence Epstein told ESPN. "We're optimistic that in a relative short period of time we're going to have a lot more in-game, real-time data that's going to enhance the gaming experience on UFC."
The UFC was in favor of sports betting legalization before the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball and had worked with DraftKings to promote individual events. However, prior to Thursday's announcement, the UFC had held off naming an official sportsbook partner.
MLB, the NBA, NHL and PGA Tour are among the leagues with official sportsbook partners as they look capitalize off a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened a path for all states to authorize sports betting. Legal sportsbooks are now operating in 20 states and the District of Columbia, with another wave of jurisdictions poised to launch sports betting markets as soon as this year.
Sara Slane, a consultant who advises sports leagues on the gaming space, believes the value of partnerships like DraftKings and the UFC continues to increase.
"[Sportsbook] operators see the conversion of sports fans into sports betting customers, and the closer they can get to that fan, it's definitely going to unlock more value," Slane said.