Conor McGregor steps onto the scale during the UFC 189 weigh-in inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 10, 2015 hero

In the lead up to UFC 257, Conor McGregor has given us a rare peek behind the financial curtain.

Last month, “The Notorious” posted this tweet, revealing the exact number of PPV buys that the Irishman generated in his fight against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246. According to the invoice sent to McGregor Sports & Entertainment LLC, UFC 246 was projected to do around 1.28 million buys and ended up being collecting around 1.35 million purchases. While it was a far cry from the reported 2.4 million buys against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229, it’s not a bad day at the office consider the new ESPN+ paywall in place.

Although McGregor’s intention of sharing the exact numbers was most likely to boast, he consequently highlighted something rarely talked about—the inaccuracy of current PPV buy reports.

Ever since the UFC and ESPN reached an exclusive pay-per-view deal, reports of event purchases have been few and far between. While there have been a couple of estimates here and there from reputable sources, the most consistent reports have been from Dana White himself, whether it be through a particular journalist or of his own words. These estimates certainly have some basis of truth, but as a promoter White’s job is to embellish where necessary, leading to discrepancies between himself and other sources.

Just how off are the numbers? Let’s use UFC 246 as an example.

Originally, Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting reported that under the old PPV model, UFC 246 would have sold the equivalent of 2 million buys. While he did not give an exact translation as to how much that sold through the ESPN+ platform, many journalists ran with the 2 million number in their headlines and speculated under the new system that it could still be in that ballpark. A few weeks after the event, however, Disney CEO Bob Iger stated on a conference call to investors that UFC 246 drew “around 1 million buys.” The majority of MMA media outlets then went on to publish new or revise current stories to reflect the remarks.

The 1 million PPV buy rate for UFC 246 was then touted for the next 10 months by fans and media alike. As new estimates cropped up for subsequent 2020 UFC pay-per-views, UFC 246 was described as the second-highest-grossing PPV of the year behind UFC 251, which stood at an estimated 1.3 million purchases. It wasn’t until McGregor revealed the numbers in December that questions began to arise what the highest selling PPV in 2020 actually was, with most trusting McGregor’s claim to the accomplishment.

The above highlights the difficulty in trusting estimates under the new ESPN+ format. From claiming a projected 2 million buys under the old model, to halving that number based on an earnings call and still being off by 300,000 buys, UFC PPV estimates simply do not have the same transparency as they once did. As long as ESPN+ is the sole PPV event provider, that is highly unlikely to change.

As we kickoff 2021 with another McGregor pay-per-view extravaganza, remember that the numbers you hear following the event may be inaccurate—until McGregor inevitably posts the receipts later in the year.

UFC 257 streams live this Saturday, January 23, on the ESPN+ digital streaming service. Here’s how to order and watch the Poirier vs. McGregor PPV on ESPN+.

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