SBJ/Jan. 20-26, 2014/Media

Response to Fight Pass exceeds UFC’s expectations

When the UFC launched its new Fight Pass digital service in the early morning hours of the first Saturday in January, company President Dana White was watching at a resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and chief content officer Marshall Zelaznik was on a laptop in his Los Angeles home.

White tweeted a photo of the crystal clear video routed to his TV screen, along with the question: “How is it working for all of u?”

Then he braced for whatever missiles the most persnickety of his 2.75 million followers might launch.

“I can’t believe how positive my Twitter is,” White told Zelaznik when they spoke by phone a bit later. “This is amazing.”

Launched with a free trial that rolls over to $9.99 a month beginning Feb. 28, Fight Pass gives the UFC a home to air at least a dozen fight cards from outside North America this year, along with “Ultimate Fighter” shows produced in India, China, Brazil and Mexico and other shoulder programming. It also has a deep library of fights from the UFC and its MMA predecessors, including the popular Japan-based Pride circuit. The UFC had about half its library up in time for the launch on Jan. 4 and will continue to build it, Zelaznik said.

UFC executives would not reveal specifics on how many have signed up for the free trial, which also has included early prelims from U.S. events. But Zelaznik did say they “blew through” the best number they did for prelim fights streamed on Facebook, which White previously said was about 140,000. He said that by the end of the month the site will have doubled expectations, which were based on previous Facebook audiences, as well as transactions for live and archived content on the UFC website.

“We hit the ball out of the park,” Zelaznik said. “We’re more buoyant than ever about what this service can be.”

The UFC’s service differs substantially from the digital channel announced by the WWE earlier this month, which will include all of the pro wrestling company’s pay-per-views in the $9.99-a-month package with a commitment to a six-month subscription. That “over-the-top” offering has ruffled feathers among cable and satellite distributors, largely because of the bargain basement price.

“For us, this is a complementary offering to everything else we’re doing,” Zelaznik said of Fight Pass. “This was about complementing Fox. About complementing pay-per-view. We never considered putting pay-per-view in there. That’s not what this is.”

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