UFC announces new digital deal with Disney’s ESPN+

May 8, 2018

The UFC has announced a media rights deal with the new direct-to-consumer ESPN+ platform.  According to the Sports Business Journal, ESPN will pay $150 million per year over 5 years.  The deal is limited to the UFC’s digital package and begins in 2019.

Notably, Amazon Prime recently announced a deal with the UFC to carry its PPVs.  The new deal with ESPN will carry 10-15 UFC events exclusively on ESPN+.

The SBJ story notes that the television rights fee is not imminent although Fox Sports and NBC Sports have been in talks with the company.

Per the press release supporting this announcement Dana White stated, “I couldn’t be more excited to partner with The Walt Disney Company and ESPN on an agreement that will continue to grow our sport. UFC has always done deals with the right partners at the right time and this one is no exception. We will now have the ability to deliver fights to our young fan base wherever they are and whenever they want it. This deal is a home run for ESPN and UFC.”

The press release also states:

“With more than 280 million fans around the world, UFC boasts the youngest fan base among major professional sports organizations in the US with a median age of 40 and an audience comprising 40% millennials.”

The lineup of UFC content available to ESPN+ subscribers will include:

  • Exclusive, all new-seasons of “Dana White’s Contender Series” beginning in June 2019
  • A new original, all-access series produced by IMG Original Content
  • Exclusive pre- and post-event shows for all 15 “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Nights”
  • Non-exclusive access to UFC’s full archive of programming, including historic events, classic bouts, and original programming
  • Additional UFC-branded content, including “UFC Countdown” shows, press conferences, weigh-ins, and pre-and post-shows

It was just announced that Dana White’s Contender Series will have a second season starting this June.  The announcement today confirms a third season starting next June.

Payout Perspective:

The deal is worth an estimated $750 million over the course of the 5 years.  The announcement appears to envelope UFC Fight Pass into the new ESPN platform although the release states ESPN+ users will have “non-exclusive” access to the fight library.  So, this may mean the Fight Pass will remain on although subscriptions will likely diminish greatly.  A recent article stated that the UFC’s current digital platform had approximately 400,000 subscribers.  This is a good deal for ESPN as it adds more content to its new platform.  For the UFC, one must speculate that this may be a good deal to license its digital content and then find another suitor for its TV rights deal.  You can also view this as bad if you think they could not do an overarching deal for all of its media assets.  You have to think that Amazon was a suitor for the digital service and/or overall media package but ESPN+ likely offered more.

As for TV rights, the note by SBJ that nothing is imminent may be viewed in a lot of ways as in that the UFC is waiting for what it wants or…the UFC is waiting for what it wants.

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