Earlier today the mixed martial arts was shaken by the news that the UFC would be officially moving to sports behemoth ESPN in a huge multi-year partnership.
That news was officially confirmed in a press release from the mainstream network that detailed the full parameters of the massive deal. The UFC had announced a smaller partnership with ESPN earlier this month that would feature 15 events on its streaming service ESPN+ and was worth a reported $750 million over five years, but today’s blockbuster extended that partnership, which is set to start in January 2019, to a lucrative $1.5 billion over five years.
The larger partnership was due to the amount of UFC events set to air on ESPN, which expanded to 10 ESPN-aired Fight Night Events with an additional 20 Fight Night events on ESPN+. All of the preliminary cards for the 12 pay-per-view events a year will air on ESPN as well:
“Starting in January 2019, ESPN+ and ESPN become the exclusive digital and linear distributors in the United States for UFC, showcasing 42 live events, 30 of which will feature a full card of 12 UFC bouts. ESPN linear networks will broadcast 10 exclusive events as well as all UFC pay-per-view preliminary fights, while ESPN+, the recently-launched multi-sport, direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service, will offer 20 exclusive events and all preliminary fights for “UFC on ESPN Fight Night” programs. Events broadcast on ESPN will be branded “UFC on ESPN Fight Night,” while events streamed live on ESPN+ will carry the “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night” moniker. With this agreement, the only destination where fans can watch all UFC programming is the ESPN app, and in the future, the full breadth of content will be available on ESPN+.”
Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN President and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks, also detailed the partnership by respecting the passionate MMA fans and expressing his excitement at the deal:
“ESPN’s unparalleled multimedia platform is the perfect home for the UFC and will deliver tremendous value to both parties. UFC fans are passionate and loyal and we plan to bring the full power of ESPN’s live coverage, powerful storytelling and unmatched distribution to serve them in an unprecedented fashion. We can’t wait to get started.”
UFC President Dana White also chimed in with his view, calling it another monumental day for the world’s leading MMA promotion:
“Every year for the last 18 years, we have taken this sport and brand to another level. We find innovative ways to promote our athletes and build stars. Today is another monumental day for UFC, our athletes, and our fans. We are now part of the ESPN family, recognized around the world as the pinnacle in sports broadcasting. I am very excited for this next chapter for UFC.”
White also told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that the live production of the shows would still be controlled by the UFC before he touted his company’s prowess:
“The fans are happy with the way our show is presented, and the networks are too, which is why we get these deals done,” White said. “Our production is incredible. We do an amazing job, and we’ll continue to.”
The UFC’s new deal with ESPN, while most certainly possessing some drawbacks such as the fact it essentially renders the UFC’s own streaming service Fight Pass useless, still cannot be deemed anything less than a home run, as it replaces the UFC’s previous television deal with FOX that averaged a reported $100 million a year.
Switching from mainly FOX Sports 1 and the occasional FOX-aired card to the much broader viewership of ESPN and its many networks will only increase the attention on the UFC, and they received a monstrous increase in revenue to do so.
Despite sagging pay-per-view numbers as a bevy of big names remain inactive for the promotion, the UFC doesn’t seem to be slowing down in any way with the announcement of this somewhat surprising deal.
Do you think the UFC knocked it out of the park today?