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ESPN’s UFC Gain Means PPV Distributor Pain

The pay-per-view event business is taking a standing eight count after UFC landed a body blow by moving its monthly mixed-martial-arts events exclusively to direct-to-consumer streaming service ESPN+.

Distributors such as In Demand, DirecTV and major MVPDs must now replace at least 12 UFC-distributed PPV events while fighting off increasing competition from services like ESPN+, DAZN and Bleacher Report Live, which are looking to siphon major sports events from traditional television. “The traditional linear PPV business is threatened, and these deals certainly portend problems and issues for companies like In Demand,” sports analyst Lee Berke said.

The new, two-year extension of ESPN and UFC’s three-year, $1.5 billion distribution deal that launched in January makes ESPN+ the only place to view the UFC’s monthly PPV events through 2025, beginning with UFC 236: Holloway vs. Poirier 2 on April 13.

That means fans will no longer be able to purchase UFC fights through In Demand — which licenses events for most cable providers — or services such as DirecTV or Verizon Fios TV. Only subscribers to the $4.99-per-month ESPN+ service will be able to view the UFC PPV events, which will cost an additional $59.99 each.

New ESPN+ subscribers can opt to pay $79.99 for one year of the service as well as one UFC PPV event, ESPN said.

Representatives from In Demand could not be reached at press time.

This leaves boxing as the PPV event category’s highest-profile offering, albeit one in flux as the sport develops a new generation of fighters who can headline a major card. There have been two PPV boxing events this year — Showtime’s Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury fight in January and Fox Sports’s March 16 Errol Spence-Mikey Garcia bout — with ESPN and Top Rank set to offer the Terence Crawford-Amir Khan welterweight title fight on April 20.

None of these events are expected to come close to the PPV event gold standard of 1 million buys, observers said.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.