Sides were millions of dollars apart in talks for UFC Hawaii event

(Image: Yancy Medeiros/Instagram)
(Image: Yancy Medeiros/Instagram)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tourism officials in Hawaii say that the UFC demanded a $6 million sponsorship fee in order to host a pay-per-view fight card at Aloha Stadium this summer – an amount even higher than what the agency once paid the NFL in order to host the Pro Bowl.

Details of the UFC proposal were revealed to Hawaii News Now by the Hawaii Tourism Authority on Wednesday afternoon, hours after UFC president Dana White told reporters at a press conference in Brooklyn that plans for a UFC event on Oahu were 'shut down' by local tourism officials before a deal could be reached.

The press conference, which was held earlier Wednesday, was intended to help promote Hawaii-native Max Holloway's lightweight title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov on Saturday.

According to the HTA, the UFC had initially proposed a pay-per-view fight event at Aloha Stadium – not the Blaisdell Arena or the Stan Sheriff Center – for August 4, 2018. The UFC projected that the fight would draw an estimated 20,000 people from around the world to Oahu to watch the bout in person.

Despite the potential influx in visitors, the HTA says the UFC's $6 million asking price was unrealistic – the agency's entire annual budget for sports marketing is $5.8 million, according HTA vice president Leslie Dance.

The HTA's board of directors instead approved a sponsorship fee of $1 million – $5 million less than the UFC's asking price.

"They called the NFL and asked what we paid for the Pro Bowl. I think they said, 'If the Pro Bowl got that, we should get this,'" said Dance. "We offered (a counterproposal) and they took a couple weeks and said, 'No thank you, we're going to pass.'"

The agency also objected to the August fight date, calling it 'peak time of year for leisure travel to Hawaii' and saying they preferred a date during the fall or spring, when there would be more airline seats and hotel rooms for attendees.

The HTA's response to the UFC proposal appears to have been unsatisfactory to White, who says the event simply 'isn't happening.'

"Hawaii was happening this year and it got shut down by the tourism board there, so it won't happen anytime soon," said White, who appears to have been referencing the Hawaii Tourism Authority. "We were geared up and ready to go there this year."

Local fight fans – and many local fighters themselves – have openly lobbied for a UFC fight card to be held in Hawaii. The rise to prominence of fighters like Holloway appeared to have set the stage for such an event, but negotiations broke off before plans could be finalized, according to White.

In December, days before Max Holloway's second victory over Jose Aldo to retain the UFC's featherweight championship, White told reporters that the UFC was 'working on' a Hawaii fight card despite several potential challenges, including the uncertainty involved with staging an outdoor event in the tropics.

Despite both an apparent willingness on both sides to overcome those challenges and make the fight happen, negotiations over price doomed the potential bout, the HTA says.

"We really wanted to make it work on a number of reasons. The people of Hawaii, we know they love the UFC," said Dance. "It would've been a nice win-win for everybody."

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