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Volume 22 No. 19
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Dana White: ‘This is the day I have been dreaming of’

The global rise in popularity of UFC, fueled in part by stars like Conor McGregor, has given CEO Dana White the chance to be aggressive with its streaming strategy.
Photo: Getty Images

Leaning over a conference table in his office at UFC’s Las Vegas headquarters, CEO Dana White unfurled a blueprint of a 90,000-square-foot, $12 million campus expansion that will add a state-of-the-art television production facility, the centerpiece of which will be a 500- to 1,500-seat mini-arena that will host fights.

Scheduled for completion in July, this is where the UFC will stage bouts for its “Ultimate Fighter” and “Tuesday Night Contenders” series, which will reside on ESPN+. It’s also where White hopes to put on a slew of events from across combat sports — boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu and more — to stream on the UFC’s direct-to-consumer Fight Pass.

Through 17 years heading the UFC, White has pushed hard to broaden the sport’s TV reach, going from pay-per-view to cable to Fox and now to ESPN. He also has upped the UFC’s share of revenue from its pay-per-views, negotiating the portion taken by distributors from the industry standard of 50 percent down to closer to 30 percent. And when viewers stream the show directly from the UFC’s website or Fight Pass, he cuts the distributors out entirely.

“This is the day that I have been dreaming of,” White said, slapping both palms on the blueprint. “We don’t need a television network anymore. I don’t need these guys that want to take 50 percent of our business. The world is changing really quick. I can do live fights all day and all night.”

While the UFC is certainly the most experienced U.S. sports property when it comes to DTC distribution, even White concedes the unrivaled ability of ESPN to drive U.S. sports fans to a subscription channel and to pay-per-view.

UFC’s five-year, $1.5 billion deal with ESPN puts 20 of its “Fight Night” shows, its developmental series and its library on ESPN+, a play designed to make it a must-have for avid fans. But it also keeps all of the UFC’s pay-per-view prelims and 10 of its “Fight Night” shows on linear TV.

“They wanted most of the stuff to go to Plus,” White said. “But I fought for more dates on ESPN. I love being part of the ESPN+ platform. It’s the future. It’s the way everything is going. When we finally got to a place where the deal was done, I felt great about it. I can’t wait. I’m beyond excited.”

Another benefit that UFC gets from both ESPN+ and its own Fight Pass offering is the unrivaled window both provide into the audience.

“Yes, you have their information with their credit card, but you also see what they consume,” said Lawrence Epstein, the UFC’s chief operating officer. “You see the fighters they like. You see the content they’re watching. You see how often they watch that content. You see what triggers them to get back in. You know where they live. So you have all this information that you can use to be an efficient marketer.”