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- The UFC is moving from Fox Sports to ESPN in a five-year deal worth $1.5 billion.
- The move will likely introduce a new audience to the world of mixed martial arts and will give ESPN plenty of opportunities to promote its new product.
- Fights will appear on both ESPN and the network’s over-the-top service ESPN+ starting in 2019.
ESPN and the UFC have agreed to a five-year deal worth $1.5 billion that will bring mixed martial arts to the Worldwide Leader in Sports and quite possibly its biggest audience ever.
The deal is set to begin in early 2019, and includes both the previously announced agreement to bring fights to ESPN’s new over-the-top offering ESPN+ as well as live shows on the cable network. Thirty UFC Fight Night events will appear on ESPN platforms per year, with ten main cards on the network and the other 20 available on ESPN+. ESPN networks will also reportedly air the preliminary bouts of pay-per-view events.
While interest in UFC has declined somewhat of late – with some of the sport’s biggest stars leaving for boxing, wrestling, or waiting out suspensions – the deal could serve as a nice kickstart to bring a new audience of committed fight fans to the ESPN+ service.
More importantly, with ESPN’s 24-hour news cycle fueled by debate shows and Stephen A. Smith hot takes, there will be plenty of opportunities for the network to promote interest in their latest acquisition.
For the UFC, the deal is an opportunity to reach a much wider audience. Moving from Fox Sports, who decided to turn down an extension with the promotion in favor of buying the rights to WWE’s “SmackDown Live,” the UFC will now be a much more significant part of the lives of casual sports fans. Additionally, with the promotion’s current star problem, the reliability of ESPN’s check coming through every month eases some of the pressure to generate new stars that can sell PPV rates that reach the heights of Conor McGregor.
It feels like a win-win deal for both the network and the fight promotion, but we won’t know how the deal is working out until broadcasts start in 2019.