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Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of
Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company,
Evolve Media.

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship
pay-per-views has changed: UFC 249 is only available on ESPN+ in the
U.S.

* * *


What has felt like the longest month in recent history has been
arduous for everyone, as the world tries to keep up with the
ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic. In the sports industry, every
major league imaginable has shuttered its operations and suspended
play, as a growing number of countries go into lockdown and impose
strict social distancing rules to curb the spread of the virus. The
NBA, NHL, Champions League and numerous other organizations have
halted their seasons due to the pandemic, while
those leagues that are in the off-season, like the NFL and MLB,
have weighed their options on how best to move forward
. In
collegiate sports, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball
tournaments were canceled—the first time that has happened since
its inception in 1939.
The global health crisis has grown so dire that the 2020 Olympics
have been postponed until 2021
, marking the first time that the
modern games have ever been delayed in their 124-year history.

Despite it all,
Ultimate Fighting Championship
President Dana White has
insisted that UFC 249 will go on as—somewhat—planned on April 18.
After the
promotion was forced to postpone its last three scheduled events
due to the coronavirus
, most fans and pundits believed UFC 249
would follow suit,
especially considering the New York State Athletic Commission’s
decision to remove the card from the Barclays Center in
Brooklyn
. White has been adamant that the company’s next
pay-per-view will proceed, however,
indicating that a new venue is set for the show and that extra
precautions will be taken in light of the ongoing health
emergency
. With the event headlined by a highly anticipated yet
snakebitten matchup between Khabib
Nurmagomedov
and Tony
Ferguson
for the UFC lightweight title, the choice to hold the
card during a global pandemic struck a nerve with several media
outlets.
Many called the move irresponsible
. According to White,

he could not care less about what the MMA pundits think
.

Media backlash aside, there is no doubt that the decision to hold
UFC 249 comes with a great deal of risk for the promotion. While
White has stated that safety measures will be in place for
fighters, officials and all those in limited attendance,
he has stopped short of saying that tests for the COVID-19 virus
will be part of the card’s medical procedures
. If anyone at the
event, let alone a fighter, were to test positive for the virus
immediately following the pay-per-view, the ramifications for the
UFC would be massive. Not only would it derail any plans the
organization had for continuing events after UFC 249,
but it could expose the UFC to a growing wave of lawsuits that are
expected once the epidemic is contained
, not to mention the
public-relations nightmare that would ensue. Whether it comes in
the form of public rebuke or new litigation raised against the
company, the last thing the promotion wants to see is someone who
was at the arena test positive on April 19.

That’s not to say there isn’t great reward to be gained by the
venture, either. Not only is the main event one of the most
exciting matchups on paper to happen in modern MMA, but with
virtually every other sport being shut down, it’s a chance to draw
in a large number of
casual viewers who are willing to watch just about any sort of
competition at this point
. The combined storm of an extremely
appealing fight and no other sports alternative being broadcast
could result in a surge of pay-per-view buys for UFC 249, giving
the promotion and media rights partner ESPN a much-needed boost
during the athletic drought. If the event ends up delivering the
type of action that many diehard MMA fans are hoping to witness, it
also opens up the possibility of converting a portion of that new,
casual audience into hardcore fans themselves, which would pay
dividends down the line for the promotion.

The biggest question, of course, is whether or not the risks
outweigh the rewards when it comes to the UFC’s decision to hold
the event. The promotion has had its fair share of controversies
throughout the years, from criticism of the Reebok sponsorship deal
to
the handling of the most recent troubles
involving Conor
McGregor
, and managed to come out predominantly unscathed.
Should a worst-case scenario occur where it is determined that
those in the venue were exposed to or contracted COVID-19 at UFC
249, it’s not a far cry to say that any condemnation in the media
or court of public opinion would eventually blow over, even if it
took longer than issues the UFC has dealt with in the past. From a
legal perspective, while the decision to move forward is
unsettling, as long as the promotion has made a good-faith effort
to take precautions and clearly explained the risks to all those
involved, it’s possible that the company could fend off any serious
litigation, especially if any coronavirus cases to arise from the
event were mild or asymptomatic. In either scenario, the UFC would
still receive the pay-per-view revenue from the show, meaning it
could still come out ahead after legal costs, depending on how well
the card did from a PPV buy perspective.

While this isn’t a full cost-benefit analysis on whether or not to
go forward with UFC 249, it highlights some of the biggest risks
and potential gains for the promotion. The UFC is most likely
facing external pressure to host the event from parent company
Endeavor,
given its extremely high debt load
and the fact that almost all
of its live-event subsidiaries have been forced to suspend
operations themselves. It’s also important to note that while White
won’t confirm if fighters on the card are being tested for
COVID-19, heavyweight standout Francis
Ngannou
said that the
organization recently tested him for the virus in case he were to
fight on April 18
, leading one to wonder if all athletes set to
compete will receive similar treatment. For now, it certainly seems
like UFC 249 will indeed happen as currently scheduled, but if this
pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that three weeks during this
health crisis can be a lifetime.

Help Prevent the Spread of the Coronavirus

Sherdog recommends all readers comply with CDC guidelines and remain as isolated as
possible during this urgent time. Visit the Centers for Disease
Control at CDC.gov or
the World Health Organization at Who.int for the latest information on the coronavirus
and learn what you can do to stop the spread.
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