UFC-ESPN Deal Finalized, Arrangement To Feature Live MMA Events & More As Of 2019

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ESPN, the “worldwide leader” in sports, has reached a deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to bring Mixed Martial Arts to subscribers of the broadcaster’s new streaming service, MMA Junkie is reporting. The content will begin streaming to subscribers in January 2019.

What Viewers Will Get Out Of The Deal

In a blockbuster deal worth a reported $150 million per year over five years, the Walt Disney Company (parent company of ESPN) will bring 15 full 12-bout cards to ESPN+ subscribers beginning in January 2019. The live events, tentatively named “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Nights,” will feature more than just the fights themselves. As of this writing, the package also includes some extras. Those include the usual pre- and post-shows before and after each card; UFC-branded content such as “UFC Countdown” shows, press conferences, weigh-ins, and pre-and post-shows; access to UFC’s full archive of programming; an as-yet-unnamed “all-access series produced by the UFC;” and beginning in June 2019, all new-seasons of “Dana White’s Contender Series.”

What It Means For ESPN

ESPN recently entered the streaming business, offering content to subscribers via the ESPN+ smart-TV app for $4.99 per month. The service currently provides some live sports coverage (“a selection of live games from MLB, MLS and NHL throughout the regular season… [plus] PGA TOUR golf, Top Rank Boxing and Grand Slam tennis events… college sports including NCAA football, basketball, lacrosse, softball and more”) as well as ESPN original content and shows exclusive to app users.

The addition of the live UFC content is a huge boon to the upstart streaming service, says Walt Disney Company spokesperson Kevin Mayer, via Forbes.

“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.”

What This Means For UFC

By signing a contract with ESPN, UFC solves two of its problems. First, it has garnered a deal with what is undoubtedly the premiere means of national distribution in sports content. Second, the league has finally entered the digital game, finding a platform to offer its content via users who have “cut the cord” (that is, ditched cable or satellite TV in favor of streaming).

Meanwhile, the league still hopes to distribute its content the old-fashioned way, via a network. Its TV deal with FOX, which began in 2011, ends this year. The league is still looking at TV networks to distribute its content, and Fox Sports and NBC Sports are both rumored to be in the mix for a broadcast deal.