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Saudi PIF’s New Sports Fund Pours $100M Into PFL MMA Circuit

Apr 24, 2024Apr 24, 2024

The Professional Fighters League has sold a minority ownership stake in the MMA venture to SRJ Sports Investments, the sports-focused fund launched three weeks ago by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). PFL is the first investment by SRJ.

“There is no better global investor with industrial-strength capital [than PIF] to help us achieve our global vision,” Donn Davis, PFL co-founder and chairman, said in a phone interview. “With this capital, we now have what we need to realize our vision to start the next chapter, become not just No. 2, but the potential co-leader in MMA.”

SRJ is investing more than $100 million into PFL, according to someone familiar with the agreement, who was granted anonymity because the details are private. A representative for the PFL declined to comment on the investment size.

The investment is in the PFL parent company and will support the launch of two new endeavors next year: a PFL league for the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region and the company’s “Super Fight” pay-per-view arm. The funds will also be used to attract more stars to PFL, as well as increase participation in the disciplines of MMA across Saudi Arabia and the MENA region. Saudi Arabia will also host and underwrite a “substantial” number of PFL PPV events in the coming years.

The PFL has raised its profile this year by signing exclusive MMA deals with former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and crossover combat sports star Jake Paul. They will make their PFL debuts in 2024 on PPV, with Ngannou headlining a spring fight card and Paul one in the fall, per Davis. Women’s champ Kayla Harrison will also fight on the spring PPV card.

In 2018, Davis launched PFL after seeing talent agency WME-IMG buy UFC for $4 billion. PFL was built around a traditional sports league format with a regular season, playoffs and championships, instead of the arranged promotions in UFC. This month, PFL completed its 2023 playoffs at Madison Square Garden, and the finals are set for Nov. 24 with championship bouts in six weight classes worth $1 million to each winner.

Prior to the SRJ announcement, PFL had raised $200 million from an all-star roster of investors, including Ares, Knighthead, Luxor Capital, Waverley Capital and Elysian Park Ventures. Sports team owners including David Blitzer, Ted Leonsis and Brandon Beck are also part of the cap table, as is Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

PFL MENA is expected to launch in March 2024 on the heels of PFL Europe kicking off in 2023. Davis wants to ultimately develop six international regional leagues and envisions a Champions League-style tournament where the winners square off.

SRJ’s chairman Bander Bin Mogren, who has served as PIF’s COO since 2016, will sit on the PFL board. “SRJ is shaping a new age of sports in Saudi Arabia and accelerating the growth of the domestic sports economy,” Bin Mogren said in a statement. “This investment aims to nurture the local and regional talent pool in martial arts.”

PIF is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world with roughly $700 billion in assets under management. It has ties to F1, boxing and WWE, as well as an 80% ownership stake in Premier League club Newcastle United. PIF upended the professional golf world over the last two years with the launch of LIV Golf. In June, the PGA Tour, LIV and DP World Tour reached an agreement to merge their commercial interests into a single, for-profit global golf entity. Also in June, PIF took control of four teams in the Saudi Pro League and has attracted new talent this summer with blockbuster contracts to raise the profile of the Kingdom’s domestic soccer league.

SRJ, pronounced “surge,” was established to accelerate the growth of the sports sector in Saudi Arabia and the MENA region. It wants to create and invest in international sports IP, enhance the fan experience through hosting major events and invest in transformative technologies.

Last year, the NBA became the first of the big five U.S. sports leagues to approve investments from sovereign wealth funds, and the Qatar Investment Authority was the first sovereign wealth fund to invest in major U.S. team sports. This summer, QIA bought a passive minority stake in Washington Wizards and Capitals parent Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which is majority-owned by Leonsis. In addition, MSE includes the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, Capital One Arena and NBC Sports Washington. QIA is also an investor in MMA platform ONE Championship.

PFL has attracted two dozen brand sponsors, including Bose, Bud Light, Geico and Celsius Energy Drink. The company has 20 media distribution partners outside the U.S. that stream events to 150 countries. ESPN holds the U.S. rights under a deal that expires this year. Events this year on the Worldwide Leader have averaged 411,000 viewers combined on linear and streaming, up 30% over last year, and it now represents 40% of the UFC audience.

Davis says they’ve had “great conversations” with ESPN about continuing the relationship but adds that interest in the marketplace has been high. He expects a decision most likely in October for its 2024 U.S. media rights partner.