ESPN Taking UFC Package From Fox In Five-Year Deal
ESPN in a shocking turn of events will go all-in on the UFC, taking the entire package from Fox Sports, which has carried it since '11. The deal goes into effect in January. Sources said that ESPN outbid Fox Sports for the UFC rights, agreeing to pay a total of $1.5B over five years for the entire package -- a figure that includes the previously announced $150M-per-year deal with ESPN+, sources said. For months, Fox Sports was considered a prohibitive front-runner to retain the rights. But ESPN, under the direction of new President Jimmy Pitaro, showed a newfound interest in the property. Pitaro showered praise on the MMA space at the Sports Business Summit in N.Y. on Monday, describing the UFC as an ascendant property and touting its young and diverse demos.
ESPN two weeks ago cut a five-year deal worth $150M annually for 15 UFC events that it will stream to its ESPN+ OTT service. Today, the two will announce another five-year deal for $150M per year for 27 more events, including 10 full events and 12 PPV prelims on linear. Five more events will go to ESPN+. UFC will keep the rights to 12 PPV events, the same number it carried this year. ESPN’s emergence as an interested bidder in the entire package comes as a surprise, especially given press reports from a month ago that mistakenly had ESPN and Fox Sports teaming up on a joint bid. NBC Sports and Turner Sports also kicked the tires on UFC, though neither showed as much interest as ESPN.
The $300M average annual price tag more than doubles the amount of media rights fees UFC had been getting, though it falls short of the $450M-per-year figure that UFC sales documents had targeted in '16. UFC officials have since described that $450M figure as a placeholder.
Fox Sports execs late last week told Endeavor execs that they were walking away from the UFC, ending a seven-year relationship and clearing the way for ESPN to pick up the entire package, sources said. Fox was the first broadcast TV channel to show UFC events in '11. But soon after Fox Sports cut a five-year, $205M-per-year deal for the WWE’s “SmackDown Live” last week, Fox backed out of UFC talks, partly because the package’s price tag started to rise higher than Fox was willing to pay. Fox’ deal for “SmackDown” has not been announced officially, though sources said it is finalized.
Over the course of its seven-year UFC deal, Fox paid an average of $116M per year -- a number that reached $160M in the deal’s final year, sources said. UFC programming provided some of the highest ratings for FS1, a channel that launched in '13, two years after Fox’s UFC deal took effect. UFC programming dominated the schedule for Fox Sports' other pay-TV channel, FS2.