The Walt Disney Company (DIS) and UFC have agreed on a multi-year media rights deal that will bring 15 live UFC events exclusively to ESPN+ (ESPN’s DTC streaming service), effective January 2019. The MMA fight cards will be branded as “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night”, with each event featuring 12 bouts. In addition to the 15 fight cards, ESPN+ subscribers will have exclusive access to a new season of “Dana White’s Contender Series” (begins June ’19), a new all-access series produced by IMG Original Content and pre-fight/post-fight shows. UFC FIGHT PASS (UFC’s DTC streaming service) and UFC PPV events are not included in the subscription, though can be both purchased and viewed in-app.
Howie Long-Short: This partnership didn’t exactly come out of left field, we noted back in April that ESPN was considering in a joint bid with Fox Sports for UFC broadcast rights. It was rumored at the time that ESPN was willing to spend between $120 million – $180 million annually, to add +/- 15 exclusive UFC events to its burgeoning OTT platform. Ultimately, the 2 companies agreed on a deal worth $150 million annually over 5 years.
The deal would seem to make sense for both sides. Disney (DIS) adds valuable content to its growing ESPN+ library and will pull subscribers from a different pool than fans of stick and ball sports, while the UFC lands a lucrative deal for their streaming rights and finds a broadcast partner willing to promote their PPV events (see Fan below); an overlooked but valuable piece of the agreement.
It should be noted that the UFC is still looking to sell a linear broadcast package with 20+ events, their existing deal with FOX (worth an avg. of $165 million/year) expires in December. The new deal is expected to fetch at least $200 million annually.
Fan Marino: Buried within the press release, was the news that the first-ever rights and distribution agreement between DIS & UFC includes exclusive 30-minute specials previewing upcoming PPV events and re-airs of current PPV events (on ESPN’s linear and digital networks); seemingly indicating that fight fans would see more UFC coverage on cable television, but I’m not sure. Sure, ESPN’s talking heads will issue their share of UFC “hot takes” ahead of PPV events, but fans are likely to get less in-cage action assuming the 15 events heading to ESPN+ are the cards that previously aired on Fox or FS1.
Looking for free MMA action? Download the new ONE Championship app. The company just introduced a mobile application that will bring all their fights to consumers around the world for free, including events previously only available to U.S. fans on PPV (online).
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