The event will be its first in Toronto. It is sure to shatter the company’s own North American mixed martial arts attendance record. More importantly, it also marks and entirely new venue for the promotion, a stadium.
The UFC has honed its live show into an unforgettable experience, but has thus far limited itself to venues under the 24,000-seat capacity. The Rogers Centre on April 30 in Toronto will be configured to hold 42,000 spectators, nearly doubling the largest crowd the promotion has ever drawn.
Scaling the event up to such a size, without losing the electricity that a live UFC event is known for, has been UFC president Dana White’s greatest trepidation in answering the call for a stadium-sized event.
“We were always freaked out about doing a huge stadium like this,” White admitted at a special UFC 129 press conference in Toronto on Tuesday.
“What I think has helped the UFC get as big as it has is the live event experience and the last guy on Earth that wants to ruin that is me. I’m always all about the fans. I never want the fans to not only turn off their television and say that sucked, I don’t want the fans to walk away, who bought tickets, to have a bad experience either,” he commented.
“We’re going to do things in this arena that we’ve never done in any arena before. Instead of people worrying about is this experience going to be the same, it’s not. It’s going to be better. We’re taking it to a whole nother level.”
Tom Wright, UFC Director of Canadian Operations, added that, while the Rogers Centre has held more than 60,000 fans for events before, the UFC has taken great care to scale it properly to enhance the fan experience. That he says is the reasoning behind 42,000 available seats as opposed to 60,000.
While most UFC events, depending on the venue, have four to six large video screens to enhance the audience’s view of the Octagon, Wright noted that the Rogers Centre would have eight.
White did reign in Wright’s excitement, however, saying, “Don’t tell ’em everything, we want to save some surprises.”
One other new feature for UFC 129 that both White and Wright were particularly excited about is a virtual seating chart developed in conjunction with officials at the Rogers Centre.
“You’ll be able to see the entire venue in a 3D, 360-degree view,” said Wright. “So you’ll be able to see exactly what your view will look like if you’re sitting in the 100 section, if you’re sitting on the floor… you’ll be able to see exactly how the stadium will look.”
“Tom actually came up with this idea, which is awesome,” added White. “We are so confident in the experience we’re gonna give you, we created this 3D rendition, where you can actually go inside and sit in your seat, when you buy that seat, and you can see what your view is from your seat.”
Forty-two thousand seats to fill is still a lofty goal, even with the UFC’s popularity, but company officials are confident that they’ve hit the sweet spot with the user experience and a fight card with two title fights featuring Canadians fight on their home turf, including the UFC’s biggest star, Canadian Georges St-Pierre.
Tickets for the UFC’s Fight Club go on sale Thursday with sales to the general public kicking in on Saturday, so we’ll know rather soon just how well the UFC does with it’s first stadium show ever. We have a few months to go, however, before fans weigh in on the whole user-experience discussion.