Starting in January 2019, ESPN+ and ESPN become the exclusive digital and linear distributors in the U.S. for UFC. USA TOAY
ESPN wrestedÂ control of UFCâ€™s television rights from Fox Sports as the Disney-owned network has agreed to commit $1.5 billion over the next five years to broadcast and stream the sport.
The deal was announced by ESPN on Wednesday afternoon in a news release that didn’t disclose the exact terms of the agreement.Â EarlierÂ in the day,Â a person with knowledge of the agreement told USA TODAY Sports that the five-year deal for UFC’s broadcast rights was worth $150 million per year.Â The person requested anonymity because the financial details weren’t disclosed.Â
ESPN agreed to pay roughly the same amountÂ ($750 million over five years) for UFC’s digital right earlier in the month.Â The deals, which begin on Jan. 1, include 42 live events annually (30 with full fight cards)O. TenÂ ESPN Fight Night cards will broadcast on one of ESPN’s networks with the other 20 on ESPN’s new streaming service, ESPN+.Â
â€śESPNâ€™s unparalleled multimedia platform is the perfect home for the UFC and will deliver tremendous value to both parties,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. “UFC fans are passionate and loyal and we plan to bring the full power of ESPNâ€™s live coverage, powerful storytelling and unmatched distribution to serve them in an unprecedented fashion. We canâ€™t wait to get started.â€ť
ESPN+ also will stream preliminary coverage for UFC’s pay-per-view cards, which average about 12 per year.Â
â€śEvery year for the last 18 years, we have taken this sport and brand to another level,” UFC President Dana White said in a statement.Â “We find innovative ways to promote our athletes and build stars. Today is another monumental day for UFC, our athletes, and our fans.”
The unexpected departure from Fox comes nearly two years afterÂ EndeavorÂ purchased UFC,Â known as WME-IMG when it acquired the MMA promotionÂ for $4 billion.
The UFC-ESPN TV deal could be a major blow for Foxâ€™s sports cable outlets, FS1 and FS2. Both channels relied heavily on UFC programming, and it currently is one of the few draws on FS2.Â
Fox Sports had an exclusive negotiation windowÂ for UFC’s TV rights that expired late last year.Â The loss of UFC could be cushioned some with Foxâ€™s deal with WWE that is expected to be announced soon.
The network said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports:Â
â€śFoxÂ Sports has enjoyed an amazing partnership with the UFC over the last seven years. As FoxÂ Sports was planning the launch of FS1, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta were the first partners to believe in the idea and vision of the new network. We look forward to finishing out 2018 with more exciting live events and wish the UFC continued success in the years to come.â€ť
Fox leaned on UFC for the launch of FS1 and FS2 in August 2013. The fights typicallyÂ were among the networkâ€™s most-watched shows as its daily mainstays of talking heads failed to gain traction against dominant ESPN.Â
With UFC’s TV rights in hand,Â ESPN has another tool as carriage agreements with cable and satellite companies expire. ESPN has undergone a series of cutbacks in recent years that many attributed to a decline of its subscriber base.Â
ESPN, however, still remains highly profitable, largely because itÂ commands more than $7 per subscriber each month just for the main ESPN network, and that number rises past $9 for ESPN2 and its other channels.
Fox, by comparison, gets less than $2 per month.Â
The addition of UFC to a mix that already includes agreements with every major sports league in the USAÂ (except the NHL),Â along with major college sports properties such as the College Football Playoff, gives ESPN another reason to seek at least the same amount it charges to cable, satellite and over-the-top (OTT) video service (ie: SlingTV and DirecTV Now) providers.
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