While the relationship may have started with a boom earlier this year, opinions of the UFC’s broadcast deal with ESPN soon soured.
Much of the discord with fans was over the sheer difficulty of purchasing a pay-per-view card, as the events are now behind not one, but two, paywalls. It didn’t help that the first event aired exclusively through ESPN+. April’s UFC 236, experienced endless problems with streaming.
But in terms of the UFC’s bottom line, it didn’t matter. They’ll receive a baseline revenue that’s reportedly comparable to a PPV selling around 500,000 buys. That’s lead to the UFC not overextending to book massive PPV stars like Brock Lesnar and Conor McGregor. Case in point, Lesnar was reportedly close to facing heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier this year. But he wanted a flat fee due to the ESPN deal and the UFC was unwilling to agree.
So Lesnar retired. The UFC doesn’t appear willing to give McGregor his expected windfall to return, either, and it’s making a new era that’s devoid of true stars in MMA. People are already taking notice, and former UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub is one of them. He opened up about the current state of the UFC on his Below the Belt podcast (via Bloody Elbow). According to ‘Big Brown,’ the UFC no longer has to pay major stars:
“We heard Brock Lesnar turned down the deal. Conor… we haven’t heard anything from him. The UFC is content just being in cruise control because they have this reliable nut from ESPN. They’re set there, so they’re not willing to be bend over backwards to get a guy like Brock Lesnar anymore. They don’t need it. They don’t have to give Conor McGregor half the company to come back.”
Dana White ESPN’s Only Star?
Indeed they do not, and it appears they will not. A return by McGregor has been oft-discussed but has not come to fruition as of yet. This exact issue could be at the center of the discussion.
But Schaub insists there’s another more insidious dynamic in play. He claimed that was the UFC’s promotion on ESPN. The coverage is focused on Dana White instead of the fighters, and that’s just not good:
“Notice the direction of the marketing now on ESPN. Who do you see now? Dana White. It’s very Vince McMahon… This is the face that you recognize. Because you won’t recognize the fighters, but you recognize Dana White. So his ego and his popularity goes up. That’s the face [of the company] now. That’s not good. All the promos are Dana. It’s all him. That’s insane, man.”
Many fans may agree with Schaub’s critical stance on the new UFC deal. The ratings would suggest that fans may be growing tired of the UFC’s new broadcast structure after an initial honeymoon period.
Do you agree with Schaub? Is the UFC headed towards its doom without major stars in a star-driven business?