The Professional Fighters League (PFL) is in the midst of a significant run of its regular season in several divisions, and the combat sports organization is also in a period of growth and advancement from a business perspective.
PFL founder Don Davis talks growth, viewership and engagement
I spoke with PFL President, Founder and Co-Owner Don Davis ahead of the PFL’s 2023 regular season schedule on Friday, June 23. He expressed his excitement ahead of the Atlanta card which included Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Shane Burgos and Sadibou Si (who performed a KO of the Year candidate in the co-main event), and he also discussed the current state of his organization. discussed.
Davis recently tweeted a graphic detailing some huge metrics related to viewership, engagement and overall growth for the organization.
“We are very proud of this,” Davis told me in an exclusive interview on a recent episode of Unanimous Decision. “Overall, sport is almost flat, and overall TV viewership is down about 5%. Yet PFL is up 45% this year. This is our fifth season. Everyone who watches PFL stays with us, but clearly there are more and more fans and more and more viewers watching it every year. An increase of 45% is astonishing. I think this makes us the fastest growing league in the United States and probably globally.
You can watch the interview in full below.
According to Davis, PFL’s goal is to create an entertaining and informative broadcast, while also providing fighters with the most attractive compensation for their efforts. Is the PFL Trying to Make a Better Fighting Sports Fan?
“If you’re a hardcore MMA fan, we give you more data, more analysis, more insight,” Davis said. “If you are a hardcore fan then it is great. But if you are new to MMA, about half of our audience is new to MMA, they are sports fans but not MMA fans prior to PFL. We give you a way to understand what is happening. So think of it as a yellow line for a first down in football. We give the equivalent of a ball and strikeout and pitch speed indicators for baseball. UFC or others don’t do that. They assume that everyone is a diehard fan. These are the greatest athletes in the world, and we give you a way to understand and appreciate them.
PFL Founder Don Davis Talks Potentially MMA’s LeBron James Francis Nganoua
At the center of the movement the PFL is experiencing is the high-profile signing of former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Francis Ngannou.
Davis also spoke in depth about the signing as he compared the heavyweight’s impact on his game to that of LeBron James on basketball.
According to Davies, there were three important details when negotiating the deal for Ngannou. Ngannu wanted to explore boxing. Secondly, he wanted to be involved in leadership and fighter development, which he was given as a key figure in the launch of PFL Africa. Ultimately, Ngannou wanted to be paid his market value, and the 36-year-old also wanted his opponents to be paid handsomely. According to Davis, Ngannou asked his opponents to pay at least the minimum amount to face him.
Davis said, “I don’t know why it was so difficult for the UFC to reach an agreement, except that they have a model they will never change.” “Maybe they make some changes for Conor McGregor, but they don’t make any changes for anyone else. Look, we’re running a business too. We are focused on driving revenue and growth and delivering great business value for our investors. But it starts with the athletes. It starts with having the best athletes here and cheering them on.
I asked Davis why he thinks it was difficult for the UFC to treat Ngannou the way McGregor did.
He said: “My 92-year-old father says, ‘Every business is easy until it’s yours.’ So I try to focus on building the PFL, and recruiting fighters into the PFL, and making the PFL the best place I can be. I leave the UFC business to them.
“There are some athletes who just want to be athletes, and other great athletes are leaders,” Davis said. “LeBron James, what he’s done to replace free agency and control for other basketball players. Francis is doing the same for other people in MMA. He is showing that they have a choice. He is showing them that they have options. He’s showing them how to take control of their careers, and not be held hostage. To me, Francis is an incredible fighter, but he’s also a leader of his sport.”
The comparison was interesting, but it was not the first time Ngannou had heard mention of the concept after signing a multi-fight deal with the PFL. Because of the source, I wanted to delve deeper into the issue. I asked Davis if he would consider Ngannou the LeBron James of MMA.
“I think that’s what people are going to see in the next two or three, or four years. As the PFL becomes the co-leader in MMA, as more and more fighters have a choice between the UFC and the PFL, more and more fighters take that choice and decide where to stay , it’s all going to be because of Francis. He’s going to be the guy who did it.”
Only time will tell if Ngannou’s impact will be as far-reaching as many believe, but there is no doubt that this deal has widened the MMA conversation.