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KO of main event to test UFC's ultimate appeal

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KO of main event to test UFC's ultimate appeal

The cancellationof its July 9 main event could serve as a litmus test of the strength of the pay-per-viewand brand appeal of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The U.S.Anti-Doping Agency, the independent administrator of UFC's anti-doping policy, recentlyinformed fighter Jon Jones of a potential violation found in a sample collectedlast month, which resulted in the removalof his rematch against Daniel Cormier, for the latter's light heavyweight title.The UFC had been promotingthe event as the "biggest, baddest card ever." 

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Source: In Demand

Sincethen, the Zuffa LLC-owned UFC, which is reportedly onthe market, has been left scrambling. First, it elevated the heavyweight clashbetween Brock Lesnar and Mark Hunt to the headline event. Then UFC President DanaWhite announced that circuit veteran and former long-time middleweight AndersonSilva would meet Cormier in a three-round, nontitle bout. Later, UFC declared MieshaTate's defense of her bantamweight crown against Amanda Nunes is now the top attraction.

The maincard, or lineup of bouts, also includes the featherweight title tilt between JoseAldo and Frankie Edgar, and the heavyweight engagement between Travis Browne andCain Velasquez.

It remainsunclear what impact the KO of the erstwhile Cormier-Jones attraction will have onthe gate in Las Vegas, or on residential pay-per-view buys and sign-ups at barsand other commercial venues.

The UFC200 event, backed by a slew of national promotions from marketing partners includingBud Light and Monster Energy, has been expected to challenge the records for residentialpay-per-view buys and revenues. SNL Kagan pegs UFC 100 on July 11, 2009, as thetop UFC performer in terms of buys, while UFC 196 on March 5 stands second with1.5 million.

MarkBoccardi, In Demand senior vice president of programming and business development,said the company, which distributes events, movies and other content to operatoraffiliates, has "huge business expectations for UFC 200."

"Itwill be in the top five, if not better," he said. "We're very optimistic."

Althoughaffiliates determine pricing, suggested retail for the card is $49.99 and $59.99for standard- and high-definition formats, respectively. The cost is higher forthe 4K presentation. The initial UFC 4K PPV event, retailing for $69.99, will beaccessible to subscribers of AT&TInc.'s DIRECTV that have the service's proprietary set-top box and compatibleTV sets. Technology company NeuLion Inc. is also offeringthe card in the enhanced format through the UFC.tv app.

On thecommercial establishment front, Joe Hand Promotions — which works with promotersto bring mixed martial arts, boxing and other PPV events into bars, restaurantsand other closed-circuit venues, and just renewed its deal with UFC — remains encouragedby the event's potential drawing power. Tim McManus, director of marketing, publicrelations at Joe Hand, said the company had been receiving numerous calls and emailsfrom bars and restaurants that have not offered UFC events in the past.

"We'restill confident that this will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest-selling,UFC commercial PPV event that our company has ever done," he said. "Asdisappointed as we all are, this card was always about more than one fight. That'sthe benefit of starting with nine current or former champions scheduled to fight.With the two championship bouts remaining and Brock Lesnar, it's still the deepestcard the UFC has ever put on."

McManusacknowledged that some clients have called in expressing their disappointment withthe turn of events, "but we haven't had many decide to cancel the fight."

AlthoughUFC may endure short-term hits among fans and business partners in the way of lostrevenues, the UFC 200 card could ultimately serve as recognition of the circuit'sgrowth and stature, according to Marc Edelman, an associate law professor at BaruchCollege's Zicklin School of Business.

Edelmansaid professional sports organizations in the long run "must move toward buildingsustainable brand equity beyond individual athletes," who may become injured,get suspended and eventually retire. He noted the UFC has been "working towardthat" over the years.

He saidthe circuit conducted a risk-reward analysis in electing to cancel the headliningJones-Cormier match just days before the event, and he views the call as one thatcould "speak to the integrity of the organization in the eyes of other professionalsports leagues and among other UFC fighters" and ultimately boost the brand.

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The UFCalso received praise for profferingticket refunds in the wake of the card change, which could have engendered a class-actionsuit by fans that have paid large sums for tickets and their excursions to Las Vegas.

"It'sa smart move," said Edelman. "Again, there may be some short-term losses,but it could preclude a lawsuit and negative press."

Still,if the removal of Jones-Cormier from the card proves to be "a marketing fiasco,"Edelman said UFC may elect to readdress its drug policy and allow athletes to participatein the competition, pending their appeal, and deal with potential suspensions andattendant fallout afterward. As an example, he pointed to Major League Baseballallowing Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees to continue to play pending hisappeal on performance-enhancing-drug violations prior to his suspension during the2014 season.