UFC, ESPN Announce Multi-Year Deal to Stream UFC Live Events, Contender Series

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UFC President MMA Dana White Greg Hardy
Dana White Credit: Mike Sloan/Sherdog.com

ESPN+ will be your home for streaming 15 exclusive UFC live events come 2019.

The UFC is no longer exclusively on FOX. On Tuesday, the promotion announced it had come to an agreement with sports powerhouse ESPN and parent company Disney that will see 15 live events air exclusively on ESPN+, “as well as across a variety of ESPN’s television, social and digital platforms, in English and Spanish, taking effect in January 2019.” The deal will also see Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, currently airing on UFC Fight Pass, move under the ESPN umbrella, something first reported by MMA Today’s Nolan King. Rumors of some sort of deal with ESPN had been swirling for months.

The announcement comes at a key point for the promotion. Having been purchased by WME-IMG for over four billion dollars just a couple of years ago, TV rights were to be a huge part of the promotion’s profitability moving forward. The parent company was reportedly looking for a deal in the range of $450 million annually, but offers from current home FOX and competitors were significantly lower. So instead, the UFC has opted to split its content. A broadcast TV deal is still expected to be announced at a later date, with FOX very much in the running.

As for the ESPN deal, it will see 15 UFC Fight Night events air exclusively on ESPN+, the network’s streaming service. Each event will consist of twelve bouts. In Tuesday’s press release, promotion President Dana White is quoted as saying that “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 exclusive live events will be entitled “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Nights” — much like UFC on FOX, or the old UFC on Versus, UFC on Fuel TV, etc. The deal also includes “a new original, all-access series produced by IMG Original Content” as well as pre- and post-fight event coverage, and multiple seasons of the Contender Series. ESPN+ subscribers will also be able to purchase UFC Fight Pass and UFC PPV events.

The upside to the deal for the UFC is expanded coverage on ESPN, something the promotion has long coveted. Sports Business Daily puts the dollar figure on the UFC-ESPN deal at $150 million annually, and notes that FOX and NBC Sports are still in the running on the broadcast side.

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