UFC 129, scheduled for April 30 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, reportedly sold 42,000 tickets from its UFC Fight Club and newsletter presales alone last week – which led the UFC and Rogers Centre officials to reconfigure the seating setup to add more tickets for Saturday's public on-sale.
Within minutes, the additional ticket allotment was gone, and the UFC had a new personal best – and North American record – 55,000 tickets sold with a record $11 million gate. White said the company took a risk putting that many tickets on sale for its first stadium show – but was banking on previous successes in Canada, in Montreal and Vancouver.
"I always talk about how big Canada is, and how big we're growing internationally," White said on a call with media members. "It was a big move to put 42,000 tickets on sale. Every time we go up to the Bell Centre (in Montreal), we sell that thing out. But the question was, how many more people were really looking for tickets? Is it 25,000? Maybe it's 29,000? 30,000? When we put 42,000 on sale, I'll admit I was a little nervous about it and I didn't know. I'm absolutely blown away by the response."
Reluctant in the past to commit to larger stadium shows and preferring to stick to arenas, White said the UFC worked any kinks out to ensure fans still get the live experience that has come to be expected of a UFC show.
"The one thing that always worried me about doing a stadium was losing that experience that the fans get in anywhere from a 10,000- 20,000-seat arena," White said. "This place is perfect. The way we've laid this out – we put risers in. There won't be a bad seat in this place. To be able to do a stadium this big and say there won't be a bad seat in the house, we pulled it off. It's gonna be great."
Rogers Centre, built in 1989 as a stadium for Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays and the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts, was originally known as the SkyDome. It was also the first North American stadium to feature a retractable roof.
UFC 129 will be held in conjunction with the promotion's fourth UFC Fan Expo event, and its first outside of the United States. Previous Fan Expos were held prior to UFC 100 and UFC 114 in Las Vegas, and UFC 118 in Boston.
The UFC's previous high mark for attendance came in December at UFC 124 in Montreal at the Bell Centre with 23,152 fans. That topped UFC 97 and UFC 83, both also at the Bell Centre, which had in excess of 21,000 fans.
White said Toronto was the ideal destination to do a stadium show. The Canadian province of Ontario passed MMA legislation last fall, and Canadian favorite Georges St-Pierre will headline the card in a welterweight title fight against Jake Shields. But White also praised the city.
"One of the things about our sport, like the Super Bowl, people will travel from all over the place to go," White said. "The thing about doing it in Toronto is, Toronto's a huge hip city with tons of nice hotels and lots of things to do as far as nightlife goes, shopping, clubs, restaurants. This was the perfect place to kick it off and try a stadium."
Tom Wright, the UFC's director of operations in Canada, said for the promotion's shows in Montreal, roughly 75 percent of the ticket-buying fans are Canadian; 25 percent come from the United States and other parts of the world.
But White said the instant success of the Toronto show doesn't necessarily mean it will be just as easy to do other stadium shows. He said Cowboys Stadium, in Arlington, Texas, outside of Dallas, presents a problem because of its location compared to the number of hotel rooms that would be required.
But the sheer volume of tickets sold in the short amount of time for UFC 129 exceeded White's expectations to the point he won't rule anything out now.
"I'm pretty cocky about this stuff – I believe in the brand and the sport and the fighters," White said. "But ... the question always is, we sold out 23,000 tickets, but how many (more) people were really looking for tickets? Now I'm sitting here with 55,000 sold out and still thinking the same thing: How many more could we have done in a bigger stadium? How many more people were looking for tickets? It's crazy."
White said the economic impact on the city of Toronto is expected to be $40 million for the UFC Fan Expo and UFC 129.
In addition to the welterweight title fight between St-Pierre and Shields, UFC 129 features a featherweight title fit between Jose Aldo and challenger Mark Hominick; a lightweight bout between former WEC champion Ben Henderson and Mark Bocek; and a battle of former champions Randy Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer, and Lyoto Machida. There are currently nine bouts between Candians and Americans on the card, and the only fight scheduled to not feature a Canadian is between Couture and Machida.
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