Why It Doesn’t Matter When Conor McGregor Loses

There’s a new number one on the Forbes List

of the World’s highest paid athletes!

Not Ronaldo or Messi, not Federer, Woods or

Mayweather but an athlete of Mixed Martial

Arts: Conor McGregor.

Overtaking Ronaldo is especially noteworthy,

because the two bantered about their position

on the list back in 2016.

McGregor already assured Ronaldo back then

that he’d go past him on the rankings eventually.

He kept his word despite having just one fight

in this year’s period of Forbes – which

he lost.

McGregor still banked an estimated 22 million

dollars in the ring.

But that didn’t bring him to the top of

the list.

He made most of his money outside of the ring

with one of Ireland’s most famous commodities:

Whiskey.

Welcome to Athletic Interest – this is the

story of how Conor McGregor defied the odds

and became the highest paid athlete in the

world.

Conor McGregor was born and raised in Dublin

Ireland, in the working-class section of Crumlin.

Besides playing soccer in his youth, he began

boxing at a local club aged 12 to defend himself

against bullies and raise his confidence.

He showed his talent early on by winning a

Dublin Novice Championship during that time.

In his later teen years, McGregor began training

in the still little-known sport of mixed martial

arts.

He also worked as an apprentice plumber but

left his job, despite his parents’ objections,

to pursue his dream of becoming a professional

fighter.

At age 18, McGregor made his mixed martial

arts debut and won via technical knockout

in the first round.

Following the fight, he turned professional

and started making a name for himself in the

Irish MMA scene.

He had a solid 12-2 record, but what made

him stand out was his entertaining character

and self promotion skills.

McGregor was so renowned that when UFC president

Dana White made a trip to Dublin, he was bombarded

at local pubs with requests by fans to sign

Conor McGregor to a UFC contract.

White himself recalls that he didn’t even

know who McGregor was at that point:

But White listened to the fans and signed

McGregor days later.

The decision would impact the future of not

only McGregor, but also the whole of UFC.

A few weeks later McGregor won his first UFC

fight after just 67 seconds via technical

knockout.

He netted 60.000 dollars for that knockout,

but the real money started to flow with his

second fight, when the UFC changed their broadcasting

strategy.

The company introduced the UFC Fight pass,

its own digital streaming service.

This allows the UFC to broadcast its own events

from anywhere in the world, at any time of

the day, without being regulated by programming

schedules of domestic broadcast partners.

As the main event of a Fight Night in Dublin,

McGregor quickly sold out the event of his

second fight.

But the enthusiasm was not only with his home

crowd, but was also seen in the viewership

numbers on Fight Pass.

Through their own streaming service, the UFC

executives had all the analytics on who and

where their viewers were.

And the data was proof that McGregor had immense

star power.

McGregor became the biggest pay-per-view draw

in MMA history, having headlined six out of

the seven highest selling UFC events.

That doesn’t only mean big money for the UFC,

but also for McGregor himself.

Because he gets a share of every Pass that

is sold for one of his fights.

The UFC is said to pay him at least 7 dollars

for every pass sold.

His most recent fight sold 1.6 million times,

which is why he reportedly made more than

10 million dollars just from his pay per view

share.

Let’s put that into perspective to other sports.

Broadcasting income is almost always the biggest

income stream for any sport.

But in football or basketball, the revenue

from selling broadcasting rights is distributed

among a whole league with multiple teams and

even more players.

McGregor, on the other hand, gets a share

of the broadcasting money just for himself

– because the whole show depends on him.

The UFC realized the marketing potential of

McGregor early on and sent him on a tour around

the world.

It was a promotional effort on a scale that

the company had never done before.

Even long-reigning champs didn’t get this

kind of treatment.

But most didn’t draw these kinds of crowds

just to hear them talk.

That promotional investment in McGregor made

him an even bigger star and in turn made the

UFC very dependent on him as their best selling

asset.

McGregor almost became bigger than the sport

itself.

As a result, McGregor felt that he could disregard

UFC regulations.

For example in regards to when to defend his

title.

He immediately abandoned the featherweight

title he had just won in order to challenge

for the lightweight title.

An unprecedented leap for such a new champion

– but the UFC readily agreed.

He also started asking for far fetched things

that probably would have been denied in any

other sport and if asked by any other athlete.

The best example is his push for a boxing

match against Floyd Mayweather.

That idea seemed completely impossible at

the beginning.

First, because McGregor was locked in a deal

with UFC.

And secondly, Mayweather was unbeaten in 49

fights, one of the greatest in a sport that

McGregor himself had never even competed in

professionally.

Against the odds, McGregor got what he wanted

– and it paid off.

The match drew 4.3 million PPV buys in North

America, the second most in history.

Despite McGregor getting a share from every

pay-per-view for his fights, the vast majority

of his 180M dollar income that put him on

top of the Forbes list was made outside of

the ring.

Look at this comparison of the top 100 highest

paid athletes in the world.

McGregor completely stands out, making more

than 87% from his activities outside of his

sport.

What’s behind that figure?

How does McGregor manage to break the norm

created by his fellow athlete millionaires

like Cristiano Ronaldo or LeBron James?

As with any other big athlete, sporting success

also brings sponsorship money.

Companies want to be associated with successful

and famous athletes to transfer their image

onto their product or brand image.

Red Bull is the most popular example.

McGregor has some sponsorship deals as well,

but that’s not his secret.

Instead of using his name to promote the product

of another company like Red Bull, he instead

created his own drink: the Proper No.

Twelve Irish-Whiskey, named after the Crumlin

neighbourhood in Dublins’ district number

12, in which he grew up.

The company generated around 1 billion US

dollars in revenue just in its first year

of existence.

McGregor successfully bundled his image and

publicity into the drink and created an extremely

authentic brand.

Proper No Twelve quickly became one of the

most popular Irish whiskey brands in the world.

So it was time to cash in.

In April 2021, McGregor sold his majority

stake in Proper Twelve and earned approx.

150M dollars (according to Forbes).

If you’ve paid attention to the numbers, you’ll

realize that 150M of the total 180M that put

him on top of the list came from one single

equity sale.

That also means that it is very unlikely that

McGregor will defend his title of highest

paid athlete in the future.

But he managed to climb on top of the list

once, just as he predicted to Cristiano Ronaldo

a couple of years ago.

That feat was probably only possible in a

relatively young sport like the UFC, that

focuses more on the entertainment and show

elements than the performance and regulatory

side of the sport.

It is unlikely that organizations like FIFA

or the NBA will ever become so dependable

on one athlete as the UFC has become with

McGregor.

The rise of UFC and McGregor are strongly

interlinked.

That might be a reason why the UFC hasn’t

really tried to replicate their promotional

push for McGregor with any other fighter.

They would now rather spend their time, energy

and money on building multiple fighters who

bring in much smaller paydays, but are much

easier to manage.

But that shouldn’t detract from the fact

that McGregor has achieved unprecedented success

in his sport and proved great instinct in

the business world.

Although UFC might be dependent on McGregor,

they probably don’t mind the increase in pay

per view prices that every McGregor fight

brings.

Despite all the trouble he might carry with

him, McGregor means money in the bank.

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