ESPN cuts 1.5 billion dollar deal for UFC content

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

FOX paid $100 million per year over seven years for the UFC; that deal ends this year. The UFC reportedly sought to raise the total to $400 million per year, and when that failed sought other suitors.

Earlier this month it was announced that the UFC Fight Pass content (15 lesser events per year), as well as Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series would go to ESPN+ in a deal worth approximately $150 million per year for five years. Now Variety reports exclusively that another 15 events per year will go to ESPN, with the total value pushed up to $300 million per year, over five years.

The UFC will reportedly continue its pay-per-view television events around once per month. And Fight Pass will continue, although apparently with less UFC events.

Variety Co-Editor-in-Chief Andrew Wallenstein has the story, which was later confirmed by ESPN.

As with their other pact, the events covered under this deal will be split between ESPN’s linear channels and ESPN+, the new streaming service launched last month.

Fox is exiting the UFC business after spending well north of $1 billion on a new WWE deal. 

UFC, which was acquired by Endeavor for a hefty $4.4 billion, isn’t getting as much per year as it had sought for these rights. It’s a reflection of declining TV ratings on Fox Sports for UFC, which has struggled to keep its momentum going despite the absence of the caliber of star fighters that propelled the league to its peak just a few years ago.

But the new deal still represents a more than doubling of what Fox paid UFC in the soon-to-lapse seven-year deal, a testament to the enduring market value of live sports.

The double dose of UFC deals comes months after ESPN brought in a new president, James Pitaro, who arrives at a precarious juncture for the Disney behemoth as subscriber declines take their toll on the division’s profits.

In good news for UFC fans, the league will retain control of production. Outside of the three letters, the biggest value in the UFC is the event look and feel. Part rock concert, part news report from a hurricane, part riot the UFC has a unique look and feel, and that will remain unchanged.

“Per Dana White, UFC will maintain control of its production of live events on ESPN,” tweeted ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “‘The fans are happy with the way our show is presented, and the networks are too, which is why we get these deals done. Our production is incredible, we do an amazing job and we’ll continue to.'”

So ESPN is the new home of the UFC. FOX is the new home of WWE Smackdown. And the $4 billion that then WME-IMG now Endeavor paid for the UFC now looks rational.