For a minute there, it almost seemed like Georges St-Pierre's return to the UFC had moved past the place where pipe dreams go to die and straight into the realm of actual, feasible possibility.
Following a three-year absence from the sport, the former welterweight kingpin announced that he had "begun the USADA process" over the summer, and then proceeded to call out everyone from newly crowned welterweight champion Tyron Woodley to middleweight champ Michael Bisping, in as polite a manner as possible (as is tradition).
However, as these things so often do, the promise of St-Pierre's comeback began to disintegrate in the negotiation process. Having signed his UFC contract long before the Reebok outfitting policy went into effect, St-Pierre felt he was entitled to a significant readjustment in show money -- something in the $10 million range (this rumor was disspelled during his MMA Hour interview) -- and unfortunately, his new bosses at WME-IMG didn't feel the same way.
So, after a lengthy back-and-forth with his longtime promotion (and the requisite burial of his good name by Dana White), it would appear that GSP is now free to find out just how valuable a commodity he might be to the likes of Bellator, ONE, or even Rizin, though the UFC might still have something to say about that.
Regardless of just how free of an agent #GeorgesStPierre is at the moment, his falling out with the UFC represents a lose-lose situation for everyone involved, really, but easily the most so for his former promotion, whose upcoming trip to Toronto for #UFC206 seemed like it was being tailor-made to welcome Canada's biggest star back to the Octagon. Assuming that the $10 million figure is at least somewhere in the ballpark, is it possible that "Rush" overplayed his hand with the UFC as Michael Bisping suggested? If not, just how much will they be missing out on at UFC 206 by not having GSP on the card?
When looking through the numbers, the answers becomes quite obvious: No, and a lot more than $10 million.
The fact is, St-Pierre's asking price, whatever it may have been, would have been a steal for the UFC no matter how you look at it. In GSP's history as a headliner -- which includes 13 main-event slots dating from 2006 to 2013 -- he only failed to crack 500k pay-per-views once according to MMAPayout, and even that was a 400,000 PPV haul at UFC 69. As for the others? Well, let's have a look at a few:
- UFC 79: GSP vs. Matt Hughes III (12/29/2007): 750,000 buys
- UFC 87: GSP vs. John Fitch (08/09/2008): 625,000 buys
- UFC 94: GSP vs. Penn II (01/31/2009): 920,000 buys
- UFC 111: GSP v. Hardy (03/27/2010): 770,000 buys
- UFC 124: GSP vs. Koscheck (12/11/2010): 785,000 buys
- UFC 129: GSP vs. Shields (04/30/2011): 800,000 buys
- UFC 154: GSP vs. Condit (11/17/2012): 700,000 buys
- UFC 158: GSP vs Diaz (03/16/2013): 950,000 buys
- UFC 167: GSP vs. Hendricks (11/16/2013): 630,000 buys
The six UFC PPV events featuring GSP since 2009 averaged 820,000 buys, with his bout against Diaz representing the UFC's best selling pay-per-view in three years. The ten remaining pay-per-views in 2013 averaged an estimated 350,000 buys; St-Pierre's average buyrate ranks higher than Jon Jones, higher than Jose Aldo, and higher than Anderson Silva in a time before the UFC even had the full marketing might of FOX to help push its pay-per-views the way the network has done over the last three years since St-Pierre went on hiatus.
At 50 bucks a pop, that's an average of 41 million dollars in pay-per-view-revenue alone, 50% of which will go straight into the pocket of the UFC, and that doesn't even take into consideration the massive gate of what St-Pierre's return bout would have brought in at UFC 206.
For perspective, the UFC's EBITDA each year is in the $100-175M range, so one GSP event, with GSP making $10M and the rest of the card making $5M, with $2M set aside for promotional/marketing expenses, would give the UFC a profit of around $17M, or 10% of their total profit for the year. From one card. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Speaking of which, let's look at what a St-Pierre return at UFC 206 would mean from a broader angle.
Despite once being heralded as the new Mecca of MMA, the UFC's Canadian market share struggled since "Rush" decided to step away from the sport. Between 2012-2013 alone, the UFC visited Canada on six separate occasions (two of which were headlined by St-Pierre) -- all for major, numbered events -- with an average attendance of 16,000-plus people. In the three years since, the UFC has visited Canada seven times with an average attendance of less than 10,000 people, and of those seven event, only two were pay-per-views (UFC 174 and 186), which brought in approximately 240,000 buys, combined.
Placing St-Pierre front and center for UFC 206 would not only result in a massive pay-per-view success for the UFC, it would have instantly revitalized the Canadian market. It would bridge the gap between the UFC's historic 205 card and its year-ending 207 card, and made for the biggest run the promotion has ever seen.
For the first time in UFC history, casual fans who have never had reason to care about three-straight PPV cards in seven weeks, would suddenly be chomping at the bit for the next . When combined with Cormier vs. Johnson II in the co-main slot, UFC 206 would have instantly been elevated from the down card between tentpole events to "must-see" TV. If that's not worth a 10 million dollar payout, what is?
GSP made $12 million in 2012 alone, despite spending the vast majority of it on the shelf, and upwards of $5 million for UFC 158. This man, who was once dubbed by the UFC president as "our biggest pay-per-view star" and "a guy you could build your business around," is now a man who "doesn't have that 'I want to be a world champion' attitude anymore."