Mixed martial arts (MMA) is widely considered as the world’s fastest growing sport, and because of that, many companies are looking to establish themselves as leaders in the industry.
While Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has long been seen as the world’s premier promotion, a fast-rising outfit known as the Professional Fighters League (PFL) believes that there’s room for two at the top of the mountain.
Founded back in 2012 - then known as the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) - by combat sports legend “Sugar” Ray Sefo, the Washington DC-based promotion gained momentum by featuring established names and future stars on their cards, and then eventually taking their show all over the globe with shows in the United States, Canada, Nicaragua, China, Japan, and the Philippines.
In 2017, following a rebrand into the PFL, the promotion continued to revolutionize the MMA world by introducing a format that was familiar to American sports fans. Instead of following suit with a promotion-style format however, the PFL featured a tournament style that has a regular season, playoffs, and finals, with the winner of each weight division being crowned PFL World Champion and being awarded a million-dollar grand prize.
The PFL has had a pair of successful seasons under their belt that has seen the emergence of stars like Lance Palmer, Natan Schulte, Kayla Harrison, Ray Cooper III, and many others.
Helping lead the PFL’s push to the top of the MMA landscape is CEO Peter Murray, who came on board in 2018 following a long and decorated career leading some of the biggest brands and companies in the world.
But who exactly is Peter Murray, and how did the former mailroom worker work his way up to becoming one the head honcho of one of the fastest-rising MMA companies in the world?
Believe it or not, Murray’s childhood dream was to become a police officer.
Growing up in New York, Murray looked up to law enforcers and the good that they did in the community.
“When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a police officer,” Murray revealed on an episode of David Meltzer’s ‘The Playbook’. “I have family in NYPD, I grew up a New York City kid in the Bronx, I thought they were leaders in the community, doing the right thing on behalf of people, helping people.”
In fact, Murray came very close to pursuing his dream of becoming a cop, but eventually found out that his passion was elsewhere.
“I took the test, passed the test, got into the Academy, and I decided to pursue my passion at the time, and that was really the intersection when I was in college, I was trying to figure out, like many young adults, figuring out what they wanted to do and that was definitely a path,” Murray said.
“But I decided to follow a passion, and that passion is in marketing. I tapped the creative mind that I felt I had at the time and I got into advertising. That was my first career opportunity,” he continued.
Murray balanced three jobs to work his way through college, and he began his career at Young & Rubicam, a New York-based advertising firm. Murray’s intro to the advertising world however, didn’t go as smoothly as he would have hoped.
“I interviewed for a role, and I didn’t get the job,” Murray shared. “I was pissed because I knew that I was as smart, and I could work harder than anybody.”
Instead of just moving on to the next prospective job opportunity, Murray found a way to be part of the company because he knew that he would get great experience from it.
“It was just a ‘get me in the door’ mentality, because they had a great training program, and so I knew I could learn from others, so I basically took a job, almost in the mailroom,” Murray said. “I did it because I knew that I just gotta get experience. Get me in the door and I quickly worked up the ranks, and was on my way.”
From there, Murray went on to become an Account Executive at Young & Rubicam. After five years, Murray jumped to Bates USA, where he was an Account Director for two years. There, Murray said he began to see the power of sports marketing.
That would lead to a big break in 1996, when Murray was recruited by the National Football League, and would go on to hold executive positions such as Senior Vice President of Business & Content Development and Senior Vice President of Global Brand Partnerships.
“I left, and I felt after seven years in advertising, I needed to touch something else, I can always go back to this,” Murray said about taking the job with the NFL. “I had knowledge, I had experience, I had a network.”
“I took a role leading all of NFL Films’ IP and developing new businesses, created a commercial production division, led all their distribution of their content, ran sales and media sales, figured things out. Things that I touched, I had never done before,” he continued.
Throughout his 13 years with the NFL, Murray constantly innovated and created new businesses.
“I was fortunate enough at the NFL, every 18 months, I was in a different role that I created,” Murray stated.
Following a fruitful 13-year career with the NFL, Murray - always looking for new ways to grow and gain experience - decided to take a leap to William Morris Endeavor, an entertainment agency.
“I felt that I was no longer growing. I was in an enviable role, but I was no longer growing from an experiential [standpoint],” Murray said.
In just three years as Executive Vice President, Murray felt that he had learned enough and decided to start his own company from the ground up.
“I really learned in that agency space, your own IP is what matters...and so I decided to launch my own company, Insignia, three years later,” Murray said.
In 2012, Murray, along with Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, former New York Jets executive Matt Higgins, and Genesco Sports Enterprises co-founder and CEO John Tatum, brought to life Insignia Sports and Entertainment.
“We launched Insignia, a sports marketing and content agency representing brands, representing talent, creating content,” Murray explained. “I hired a great team, people believed in me, they believed in the opportunity. They left big companies to work with this band of pirates to create and carve out our space in this world.”
Insignia’s list of clients included the likes of Pro Football Hall of Fame, the World Series of Poker, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and sportswear brand Under Armour.
That partnership with Under Armour however, led to Murray finding the next chapter in his career.
After just two years, Murray decided to leave Insignia, the company he helped bring to life, to accept an offer from Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my career was leave my baby, and that was Insignia, a company that I conceived, I founded, I was the president and CEO and co-founder,” Murray admitted.
Murray worked in Under Armour for three years before finally reaching his current stop: CEO for the PFL.
“All of those experiences, from advertising, to the entertainment space, to my own entrepreneurial company in Insignia, and then on to Under Armour, led me to this opportunity with the PFL,” Murray said.
Now, as he has done in his previous stops, Murray hopes to make an impact with the PFL.
“No better time to be in sports, no better to be in the fastest growing sport in the world in MMA, and the opportunity to build a product, a brand from the ground up, a new league for the new age of sports, it’s an incredible opportunity for me personally and professionally, as well as from a business standpoint.”
Murray believes that with the PFL’s unique and revolutionary approach to the fastest growing sport in the world, they have a shot at carving a place for themselves at the top.
“There’s room for another leader in this next evolution of the sport. I have amazing partners, we have titans in our ownership group from media, sports, entertainment, and technology,” Murray said.
“Our journey is to change the game, and to change the game, we’re launching MMA for the avid MMA fan as well as non-avid fans,” he continued.
In just two seasons the PFL has already made great strides, and some of the best in the world are already taking notice.
With a broadcast deal with ESPN in place as well as a newly-launched OTT platform and mobile app, the league’s reach has never been bigger.
While the COVID-19 pandemic briefly derailed their momentum in 2020, the PFL is looking to return with a bang in 2021 when they look to take their events inside a bubble in order to ensure the safety of their fighters and their staff.
Indeed, Murray has helped the PFL change the game and from here on out, expect only big things from one of the fastest rising promotions in the sport.