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UFC President Dana White acknowledged Tuesday he is “not even thinking about” holding events with fans in attendance in the near future during a coronavirus pandemic that has already cost U.S. sports leagues tens of millions of dollars in lost ticket sales.
The mixed martial arts promotion implemented an unprecedented safety plan to protect employees at UFC 249 last Saturday, one of the first major live sporting events to take place in the last two months. UFC held the event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena Jacksonville, Florida, with only essential staffers on hand and zero fans in the arena.
“You do the right Conor McGregor fight in the right place, that’s an $18 million gate. We lost a $5.5 million gate this weekend,” White said during an appearance on FOX Business Network. “It’s what it is right now. I have TV partners all over the world that are expecting content from me. It’s unfortunate that I’m going to lose my gate, but I have to honor those contracts, too.”
The UFC was the first of several U.S. sports organizations to return to action after a two-month layoff. Other leagues, including the NBA, NHL and MLB, are expected to resume play at some point in the coming weeks without fans in attendance, sacrificing a key source of revenue in order to protect public health and restore some level of operation during the pandemic.
To ensure a safe environment, UFC implemented widespread testing of all event attendees ahead of last Saturday’s event, made a significant reduction to its normal production crew and required all participants to follow social distancing practices whenever possible. One fighter, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, was pulled from the event after he tested positive for COVID-19.
White said the identification of Souza’s case ahead of the actual event was proof that UFC’s safety system worked.
“Think about this: This guy had it and cut weight, trained, prepared for this thing and never knew he had it,” White said. “So now we know he did. We got the guy in isolation now, we know he’s sick and we’re going to take care of him and his family. What you don’t want to do is do the fight and then find out three days later that he had COVID-19. So the system we have in place works.”
UFC 249 was the first of three events planned over an eight-day period, with additional fight cards scheduled for Wednesday and Saturday. White previously told FOX Business that sports leagues would need access to enhanced, rapid coronavirus testing capabilities in order to safely hold events with fans in attendance.
UFC will conduct 1,100 tests over the next week. White said UFC developed a 30-page safety blueprint for holding events during the pandemic, adding that he has spoken with executives at other sports leagues eyeing a return.