UFC Streams With ESPN+ While Awaiting Linear Deal

Now that UFC has entered the direct-to-consumer ring through a new multiyear deal with ESPN+, the mixed martial arts outfit turns its attention to completing a new linear television pact.

UFC’s deal with ESPN+ provides a sizable digital platform to showcase both live events and library content. The upstart $4.99 per month ESPN+ direct-to-consumer service — which launched last month — will offer 15 live UFC events a year and distribute the company’s monthly PPV events.

“This is a groundbreaking deal for the UFC,” Lawrence Epstein, UFC’s chief operating officer, said. “ESPN is obviously putting in a tremendous amount of resources behind the launch of ESPN+, and we couldn’t be more pleased to be part of that launch.”

The deal is a major acquisition for ESPN+, competing in a crowded sports direct-to-consumer marketplace that includes recent entries from CBS Sports and Turner Sports.

“UFC is a premiere sports property with legions of incredibly avid fans,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said. “This agreement shows the commitment we have to delivering fans the very best across our entire platform.”

UFC’s expanded digital footprint will help reach younger viewers across all platforms, Lawrence said. “One of the things about the UFC fan base is that it’s definitely young, and they want to consume content where and when they want to watch it on any device they want to watch it,” he said. “So the ESPN+ platform answers all three of those questions.”

He said the UFC will continue to offer its Fight Pass over-the-top service, which provides live and on-demand fights, as well as library fare, on a global basis.

“We believe that there’s plenty of room in the UFC ecosystem for this deal to be done with ESPN+ in addition to the offering from Fight Pass,” he said. “We’re able to continue to have our relationship with our consumers but also leverage the incredible resources and scope that ESPN delivers.”

As for linear TV, UFC’s current agreement with Fox Sports expires at the end of the year, and Lawrence said there’s “tremendous” interest from media companies regarding its remaining TV assets, but would not reveal specific details.

“Those negotiations are ongoing, and we’re hopeful we’ll be announcing another deal in a relatively short amount of time,” he said.

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.