In the first two years professional mixed martial arts has been legal in New York, the state said so-called combat sports have generated $97 million. That's $65 million more than the two years prior to lawmakers lifting the ban.
"It's not really a big amount of money when you think about essentially the $100 billion budget for the state of New York and the trillions of dollars in gross domestic product in New York. It's actually a minor event, even some might say a rounding error," said Fred Floss, an economics professor at SUNY Buffalo State.
The state said the revenue generated by boxing also has skyrocketed while wrestling events have remained stable. MMA's most prominent promotion company, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has held multiple events across the state with more than 110,000 attendees total. Still, Floss is a bit cynical about the numbers.
"We're not talking about a lot of events," he said. "If you think about the total number of people, around 120,000 - 150,000 people, to put that into perspective, it's about the same number of people that go to two home games for the Buffalo Bills."
There are also questions about how much the industry benefits Upstate New York. The state said the UFC event in Buffalo, for instance, generated $7.4 million in economic output. But even the host, the KeyBank Center, pointed out that while it was successful, it's just one of roughly 100 event nights every year.
"It's not surprising that most of the events would happen in New York City," Floss said. "If you looked at boxing and other sports, Madison Square Garden was always a big venue for boxing so it's going to be a big venue for mixed martial arts."
He said he's not trying to minimize the impact of mixed martial arts — just put it into context.
"This is the paycheck for the ushers, the ticket takers, the people that are selling the hot dogs and the beer and given that these are lower income folks, we should be happy that it's doing well and providing jobs for these people who wouldn't have a payday otherwise."