NFL vs. UFC: Revenue, Salaries, Viewership, Attendance and Ratings

As part of our continuing series of in depth comparisons between the National Football League and all the other American professional sports leagues, we offer our latest look, which is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) versus the NFL (click here to see the NFL vs. NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS and NASCAR).

The first thing we like to do is go over a few side-by-side comparisons between the UFC and the NFL so that those readers who don’t know the details of both of these sports can get a better idea of how each one is operated.

Then, based on the best information that Google searches can find, we will look at the revenue, salaries, viewership, attendance and ratings of both sports in order to figure out how the two measure up against each other.

There are so many differences between the NFL and the UFC that it doesn’t seem fair to compare the two on any level, but we will do our best to point out whenever a particular comparison does not apply or if certain data is not available.

Let’s begin…

NFL and UFC Side-by-Side Comparisons

  • The biggest difference between the two groups is that the NFL is a league made up of 32 teams with 53 players on each with 46 players declared active for each game, while the UFC is actually a company owned and operated by a parent company* that promotes mixed martial arts (MMA) fights.
  • The NFL teams play 16 games in a regular season while in the UFC there is no season because they operate all twelve months of the year.
  • NFL players on the large side average 6-foot-5 and 315-pounds (offensive line) and the smaller players average about 5-foot-11 and 193-pounds (cornerbacks), while the UFC divides its fighters into nine weight classes:
    1. Strawweight: 115 lb and under
    2. Flyweight: 115 lb – 125 lb
    3. Bantamweight: 125 lb – 135 lb
    4. Featherweight: 135 lb – 145 lb
    5. Lightweight: 145 lb – 155 lb
    6. Welterweight: 155 lb – 170 lb
    7. Middleweight: 170 lb – 185 lb
    8. Light Heavyweight: 185 lb – 205 lb
    9. Heavyweight: 205 lb – 265 lb
  • NFL players hit each other every play and on purpose and so do the UFC fighters, though some UFC fans would argue that the violent hits in their sport are more spectacular because they are not restricted by the same rules that limit the NFL action.
  • The NFL season ends with 12 of the best teams competing in a single-elimination tournament, the championship game being the Super Bowl, while in the UFC each weight class has a champion who gets to wear the Championship belt until it’s lost in a defeat to the new champion.
  • The NFL is a boys only league, while the UFC also has a women’s division.

* Which parent company owns and operates the UFC?

Currently, a group led by William Morris Endeavor owns and operates the UFC ever since they bought the company in 2016 for $4.025 billion.

Prior to that, the UFC’s parent company was Zuffa, a group formed by Station Casinos executive Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta and their business partner Dana White, who in 2001 had purchased the UFC for $2 million.

Even after William Morris Endeavor took over, Dana White remained the president, the position he has held since 2001.

Questions to be answered:

How much more revenue does the NFL take in than UFC?

How many Americans viewed NFL games compared to UFC fights in 2018?

Who is better preparing themselves for worldwide domination?

Those questions and more will be answered below while we compare and examine the NFL and the UFC – their revenue, salaries, viewership, attendance and ratings – and do our best to determine which is better maneuvering itself to be number one in America and around the world.

We’ll begin by comparing revenue.

NFL vs. UFC: Revenue

Which makes more money, the NFL or UFC?

Each year, there are 256 total regular-season NFL games while in 2018 there were only 39 UFC events.

The NFL did well in 2018, pulling in $14 billion in total revenue, which ended up being $900 million more than they brought in the season before and a $6 billion boost from 2010.

On the other hand, UFC reportedly made well over $700 million in profit in 2017, but that number might not represent a normal year for them because it included the Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather boxing match, which on its own brought the company a profit of about $180 million.

In terms of sponsorship revenue, the NFL averages more, but by how much is difficult to determine since the UFC is a private company and their financial information is “somewhat guarded.”

NFL sponsorship revenue reached $1.32 billion in the 2017-18 season, with beer, trucks and fast food being among the largest spenders.

The UFC has deals with some big names, including 7-Eleven, Modelo beer and BodyArmor, so the money is there, just not at the same level as in the NFL and certainly not made public in the same way.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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What’s the difference in how the two leagues share their revenue?

Revenue sharing was initially set up to ensure that richer and poorer teams start the season out on semi-equal footing, otherwise the competition suffers.

The NFL made $14 billion off mostly national media deals, and they had to give half of that to the league, distributed to each of the 32 franchises.

Across the league in 2017 that ended up being more than $7.2 billion in national revenue sharing, so each NFL team was given $226.4 million.

The UFC is a privately owned company so there is no union for the fighters, and therefore there is no Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), so as a result there is no sharing of the revenue.

With no association to look after their interests, UFC fighters get no guaranteed increase in pay when the company takes in more revenue.

Which made more money – the Super Bowl or the McGregor vs. Mayweather fight?

It’s a close call here.

For Super Bowl LIII, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Fiat Chrysler Automotive were the top-spending parent companies and altogether the revenue from that event was estimated to be $450 million.

Super Bowl ad spending alone for in-game spots exceeded $382 million, which was the same as the previous season.

There really is no Super Bowl level fight in the UFC, but if you look at the McGregor vs. Mayweather fight that took place in 2017, it did come close at just under $600 million total revenue.

The problem with that comparison is the Super Bowl happens every year, while a fight like the McGregor / Mayweather event happens only a few times in a lifetime.

Which ads cost more money – Super Bowl or UFC?

In most of our comparisons, we found the best way to measure the revenue potential of the two championships is by breaking down how much each of them charges for ads.

During the 2019 Super Bowl, the cost of a 30-second commercial was between $5.1 million and $5.3 million.

The UFC is done using the pay-per-view structure, so there are no paid advertisements during the fight.

Which are worth more, NFL teams or UFC camps?

The NFL has a huge advantage over the UFC as far as team worth goes, but that is mainly because there are no actual teams in the UFC.

Currently, the average NFL team is valued at $2.5 billion and according to Forbes Magazine that’s up 8% over last year, and more importantly, all but five of the NFL franchises are worth at least $2 billion.

For the twelfth year in a row, the NFL’s most valuable team and the world’s most valuable franchise is the Dallas Cowboys, who are worth $5 billion, and that’s up 4% from 2018.

As usual, closing up the list  it the Buffalo Bills with a total value of $1.6 billion.

The UFC has various training camps and has over 500 fighters currently signed to UFC contracts, but none of these camps makes the kind of revenue a single NFL franchise can bring in per year.

Is the NFL more international than UFC?

No.

But the NFL is certainly trying, especially in the United Kingdom, where NFL viewers increased by 60% in 2017.

Given that rugby is the primary sport loved by English fans, then soccer (their football), any penetration into that market is seen as a plus.

Four regular season NFL games are scheduled to be played in the U.K in  2019:

  • Week 5 (Oct 6) the Chicago Bears vs. the Oakland Raiders, 1 pm ET, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
  • Week 6 (Oct 13) the Carolina Panthers vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9:30 am ET, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
  • Week 8 (Oct 27) the Cincinnati Bengals vs. the Los Angeles Rams, 1 pm ET, at Wembley Stadium
  • Week 9 (Nov 3) the Houston Texans vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, 9:30 am ET, at Wembley Stadium

Another international game has been scheduled for the 2019 season, this one in Mexico:

  • Week 11 (Nov 18) on Monday Night Football, the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, 8:15 pm ET, at Estadio Azteca

The UFC has become a global powerhouse in the last ten years, and that mostly has to do with the popularity of its international fighters.

Fighters such as Michael Bisping from Britain, Royce Gracie from Brazil, Bas Rutten, who is Dutch-American and of course Conor McGregor from Ireland have brought international attention and the subsequent audience to the UFC that has totally outshined anything the NFL has been able to do worldwide.

NFL vs. UFC: Salaries

What is the average/top NFL salary compared to the average/top UFC fighter salary?

NFL rookies do well – they pull in an average of $480 thousand each season, which tends to increase each year by anywhere from $5 thousand to $10 thousand.

First year NFL players don’t make their money from salary as much as from bonuses:

  • roster bonus
  • signing bonus
  • contact incentives
  • other formats

Most rookies are paid the NFL minimum, but exceptional players get treated a bit differently.

For example, last year the New York Giants signed running back Saquon Barkley to a deal worth $31.2 million (with a signing bonus of $20.77 million).

And same with Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who signed a four-year contract worth $32.68 million (with a signing bonus of $21.85 million).

NFL quarterbacks make about $4 million per year on average, while the typical NFL athlete earn about $1.9 million every season.

Here are the top three highest paid NFL athletes, and no surprise here, they are all quarterbacks:

  1. Aaron Rodgers for the Green Bay Packers, earns $33.5 million per year
  2. Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, earns $30 million per year plus $5 million in endorsements
  3. Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers, also makes $30 million per season on top of whatever his deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand is worth

UFC Salaries

In 2017, 37% of MMA fighters made less than the $45,000 median U.S. average household income.

The median income for a UFC fighter was $68,500 in 2018 while the average income of all UFC fighters for that same year was $138,250.

Only 187 fighters in the UFC are currently earning six-figure salaries.

There were fifteen men and women who wore UFC championship belts in 2018, and those fighters earned an average of $783,400.

That number was actually significantly higher than the year before, 2017, when the average salary for those championship fighters was $666,643.

A UFC fighter’s pay depends on how many previous fights they’ve had, how popular they are and how often they fight per year.

The UFC guarantees its fighters at least three fights per year and must pay them for those fights even if not all three happen, that is unless a fighter turns down a fight.

Who makes more for being champions, NFL players or UFC fighters?

Whether you win or you lose the Super Bowl, you make money.

Last season for Super Bowl LIII, the winning New England Patriots each received $118,000 and a big fat expensive ring, while the losing Los Angeles Rams players got $59,000 apiece.

But they also earned money for the rest of their postseason play, about $83,000 – the Divisional playoff brought each of them $29,000 and for winning the conference championship it was $54,000.

UFC fighter Conor McGregor made between $85 million and $100 million for his big fight with Mayweather, but a typical UFC main event fight earns him a flat rate of about $3 million.

A Super Bowl-like event happened prior to that in 2016 in the UFC Women’s division between Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes.

Even after she lost, Rousey took home $3 million, the second-highest purse (behind McGregor’s from earlier that year) for an MMA fighter in the UFC’s 25-year history.

NFL vs. UFC: Viewership

Which is viewed more in the U.S., the NFL or UFC?

By the end of 2017, there was no doubt NFL viewership was going down, but then in 2018 each of the three nationally televised game nights showed a nice increase.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football, ESPN’s Monday Night Football and the shared Thursday Night Football package (between NBC, CBS, NFL Network and Amazon) all increased in viewership after having decreased for two straight seasons.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football

  • 2018: 19.7 million
  • 2017: 18.175 million
  • 2016: 20.323 million
  • 2015: 22.522 million

ESPN’s Monday Night Football

  • 2018: 19.3 million
  • 2017: 10.757 million
  • 2016: 11.390 million
  • 2015: 12.896 million

Thursday Night Football (NBC/CBS/NFL Network)

  • 2018 : 14.9 million
  • 2017: 10.937 million
  • 2016: 12.438 million
  • 2015: 12.425 million

So how do those NFL viewership numbers compare to UFC?

It’s not even close.

 One UFC on FOX show from Milwaukee averaged 1.828 million viewers while another UFC fight night drew an average of 1.867 million viewers.

The difficulty with assessing the viewership of any particular UFC event is that they involve many of the weight classes fighting, but most fans only tune in for the main event so it is difficult to assess exactly how many viewers are watching for each individual fight.

NFL viewership is slightly down, and UFC viewership is much smaller but growing.

Which is viewed more – the Super Bowl or the McGregor / Mayweather fight?

The fewest people in eleven years watched the New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII last season, just 98.2 million people worldwide tuned in.

For Super Bowl LII in 2018, 103.4 million people worldwide saw the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the New England Patriots, 41-33 and the season prior, 111.3 viewers tuned in to Super Bowl LI.

Compare those totals to the McGregor versus Mayweather fight, the biggest pay-per-view event of all time and in UFC history.

That fight had 4.3 million pay-per-view buys in the United States, which, at @ $100 a pop, brought in about $430 million.

Nevertheless, NFL viewership numbers obliterate UFC’s in every category.

NFL vs. UFC: Attendance

Who had more fans attending events last season, the NFL or the UFC?

The NFL wins this one, too, by another landslide.

Approximately 17,253,425 people attended NFL games in 2017, while less than half a million UFC fans showed up to live events (452,743).

In other words, over thirty-eight times as many people went to football games over UFC fights in America in 2017.

That makes sense, given that there are more NFL regular season games (256) than there are UFC events per year (39).

But even if there were as many UFC events as NFL games, each football game is played in a stadium that holds up to 100,000 fans while each UFC event typically holds between15,000-25,000 people, so the UFC’s attendance totals would still be far behind.

The UFC tries to offset that, of course, with higher ticket prices.

Who has a higher average ticket price, the NFL or UFC?

According to statistics from Team Marketing Report, the average cost of an NFL ticket was $92.98 last year, which was up 8.3 percent from the previous season.

For UFC fights, the average ticket price is $360, with tickets ranging from $116 to $691.

On secondary ticket providers like StubHub, Ticketmaster, TickPick and Vivid Seats, the typical cost of a Super Bowl LIII ticket was well above $5,000.

The cheapest ticket for the McGregor versus Merryweather fight was $1,335, with the front-row seats at the 100 level going for between $9,000 and $16,000.

Which league’s attendance is on a rise, whose is falling?

There has been roughly an 8% decline in attendance since the 2016 NFL season.

That’s due, in part to the sudden attention to concussions and the resulting CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) made public in books like League of Denial and Brainwashed, as well as from the outrage created when NFL players began to protest racial inequality by taking a knee during the national anthem.

(For more details on the players’ respectful protest, please read our extensive article explaining the NFL kneeling controversy.)

Live attendance is holding steady at UFC events, but because of where they are held their attendance numbers pale in comparison to the NFL’s.

For instance, during the recent UFC 236 in Atlanta, the attendance was 14,297 for a live gate of $1,908,721.

But again, unlike NFL games, UFC events take place in arenas instead of stadiums and when you consider that there are far more football games than UFC events in a year, the NFL numbers will always be higher.

NFL vs. UFC: Ratings

Which league has the better ratings, NFL or UFC?

According to the Nielsen Ratings, there was an average viewership of 15.8 million for NFL games last season with NFL television ratings rising 55 from 2017 to 2018.

The final UFC on FOX card in 2018 averaged 1.8 million viewers and peaked at 2.4 million.

The NFL overall ratings overshadow even the best UFC events.

America’s preference: the NFL or UFC?

The numbers don’t lie, and they tell us that the NFL has a whole lot more fans that the UFC in America and the difference in the amount of money each makes seems to back that theory up.

Take a look.

NFLUFC
Revenue
$14 billion$700 million
Average Team Worth
$2.5 billionN/A
Average Salaries (Rookies)
Rookie: $365,000 per yearN/A
Average Salaries (Global)
$1.9 million per year$138,250 per year
NFL quarterback: $4 million per year
Average Salaries (Top Salary)
$30 million per season + $5 million in endorsements = $35 million$3 million per fight, though McGregor made between $85 million and $100 million for boxing Mayweather
Average Viewership
NBC’s Sunday Night Football 18.175 millionNo total available, but UFC on FOX: 1.828 million
ESPN’s Monday Night Football 10.757 million
Thursday Night Football (NBC/CBS/NFL Network) 10.937 million
Average Attendance
17,253,425 total452,743 total
Ratings
Highest viewed game drew 26.88 million viewersHighest viewed UFC fight drew 4.3 million pay-per-views

Conclusion

As with the other five American sports leagues we’ve compared to the NFL (NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS and NASCAR), UFC just can’t measure up to the financial and popular success of professional football.

But that doesn’t mean it can never come close, especially when you consider how new MMA is in America as well as the fact that the UFC holds events all year long, not just during a particular season like the NFL does.

That means that the UFC can promote events and collect new fans 365 days a year instead of from September through February like with the NFL, and in the long run that could help the newer sport catch up.

But with the NFL doing its best to fix its own problems – like blown referee calls and excessive head injuries that lead to brain damage – by listening to critics and adjusting its rules and replay protocol, the league has continued to adapt and adopt to all challenges.

Meanwhile, the challenge brought on in the last two decades by the UFC, one of the other violent sports Americans love to watch and pay for, shows that they are serious about competing with the NFL, but UFC President Dana White understands that his company and sport still have a long, long way to go.

The NFL is the most watched and most lucrative professional sport in the U.S. with at least six other major sports barking at its heels.

And unless the NFL destroys itself or its reputation, it looks like the league is in a position to rule the American sports roost for quite some time.