The deal takes effect in January 2019. Terms were not disclosed, but sources pegged the deal at $150 million a year for five years — which is in the same range as the UFC’s annual take from its current broadcast deal at Fox.
Endeavor, which led the $4 billion acquisition of the UFC in 2016, has been seeking an additional few hundred million a year for broadcast rights. (Fox’s seven-year broadcast arrangement, which rose to $155 million in its current final year, expires in December.) Streaming rights are increasingly being treated by sports leagues and networks as key complements to broadcast deals, with significant value seen downstream as digital customers are acquired.
Under the deal, 15 live UFC events will stream exclusively on ESPN+, the new streaming service. The companies’ announcement also promises the action will appear on “a variety of ESPN’s television, social and digital platforms,” in English and Spanish. Each event will be branded “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night” and will deliver a full card of 12 UFC bouts.
The arrangement, a first between the UFC and ESPN, is a substantial new asset for the $5-a-month subscription service, which currently features a selection of Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games, plus a grab-bag of other sports. The UFC, while it has suffered ratings erosion amid churn of legacy stars, remains a major draw with young males, which remains prime real estate for many brands.
Kevin Mayer, Chairman, Direct to Consumer and International, The Walt Disney Company said: “One of our goals for ESPN+ is to bring sports fans of all genres content they love and are passionate about, and this agreement with UFC is illustrative of exactly that. We look forward to providing UFC’s enthusiastic, growing fan base with a wide array of live events and building a lasting relationship with the industry leader in mixed martial arts.”
Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN President and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks said: “UFC is a premier global sports property with legions of incredibly avid fans. We are excited to be able to bring their world-class events and content to ESPN+ and the ESPN networks. This agreement shows the commitment we have to delivering fans the very best across our entire platform.”
Dana White, UFC President said: “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.”
Endeavor co-president Mark Shapiro told Deadline that the commercial launch of ESPN+ accelerated the discussions with the company. “You can see all of the blueprints and be taken through all of the plans, which they did. But seeing this product that they built is really what convinced us,” he said. The price point of $5 a month was an additional bit of incentive, he said.
In addition to live, exclusive events, the lineup of UFC content available to ESPN+ subscribers will include new seasons of Dana White’s Contender Series; a new original, all-access series produced by IMG Original Content; archive programming and UFC content like “countdown” shows, weigh-ins, etc.
ESPN will also bring fans a variety of UFC content across ESPN’s widely consumed linear and digital platforms, including an exclusive, 30-minute special on ESPN’s linear networks previewing upcoming bouts and breaking down match ups leading up to each UFC PPV; hundreds of hours of UFC library programming on linear networks; and re-airs of current UFC PPV events.
Fans will be able to purchase and watch UFC Fight Pass, the circuit’s own direct-to-consumer streaming offering and pay-per-view events via ESPN+ for a separate fee.