Tuesday, July 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The UFC is poised to throw a wake-up shot to the chin of the local economy with its biggest fight week of the year.
UFC 148, which takes place Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena, and the weeklong festivities preceding the card are expected to rescue Las Vegas from what would otherwise be a below-average holiday week.
“In the past, this could have been a slower time,” Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman Jeremy Handel said. “It poses a little more challenges when the Fourth of July falls in the middle of the week, like on a Wednesday this year, but now people have incentive to come up for more of the week.”
The UFC and LVCVA announced a partnership to put on International Fight Week, a five-day event starting Tuesday that includes everything from a free concert Wednesday evening on Fremont Street to a lavish press conference Thursday afternoon at XS Nightclub.
Pool parties, a pub crawl and the UFC Fan Expo are also part of the inaugural event, which the UFC plans to host annually during Independence Day weekend from now on.
“We bring in more revenue than any other sporting event to the city, and we’re proud of it,” said UFC President Dana White. “We may not have a Major League Baseball team or our own NFL team, but it’s really true that the UFC is Las Vegas’ hometown sports team.”
White has recycled that statement on numerous occasions over the past decade, but the numbers have begun to make it more difficult to refute. The UFC has averaged six events per year in Las Vegas since Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased the then-floundering promotion in 2001.
Despite a global expansion that has seen the UFC host fight cards in five continents over the past four months, White said the company remained committed to hosting the same number of shows in Las Vegas every year.
“It’s just a no-brainer,” White said. “Vegas is the perfect destination.”
A study commissioned by the UFC found that 46,000 visitors traveled to Las Vegas for a fight last year and paid for 80,000 nights in hotel rooms.
The average UFC traveler, according to the study, visits Las Vegas 2.2 times per year with a combined travel and gaming budget of $2,459. Those numbers are higher than the average Las Vegas tourist, who visits 1.8 times per year and spends $1,425.
The UFC is estimating this week’s fight will bring $51 million in revenue to the city. The authority typically puts out its own projections but couldn’t for UFC 148 because it’s the first year of the partnership.
Handel said the authority would monitor this week’s tourism and release a study afterward. In the meantime, he thought the UFC’s figures were accurate.
“Anything that brings in a visibility of something like this and brings in this number of visitors will have a big impact,” Handel said. “Being able to bring the Las Vegas brand and combine it with the UFC, we look forward to seeing a very successful weekend.”
The LVCVA and UFC had discussed joining forces for years but wanted to wait for the right moment. With UFC 148’s main event between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen accounting for arguably the most anticipated fight in UFC history, now was the perfect time.
“It’s a sport that’s headquartered here; they do a lot of their major fights here,” Handel said. “The Fertittas continue to make Las Vegas a marquee part of their industry, so we definitely say this is our hometown sports franchise and wanted to be a part of it.”