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Volume 26 No. 27
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ESPN Extends With UFC; ESPN+ Becomes Exclusive PPV Provider

UFC is going deeper with its ESPN relationship, agreeing to allow ESPN+ to become the MMA outfit’s exclusive PPV provider, while also extending its media-rights deal by two years. ESPN does not plan to sell UFC PPVs through other distributors like In Demand or DirecTV (though UFC will sell PPV rights for bars and restaurants). Neither UFC nor ESPN would comment on how much ESPN is paying for the exclusive PPV rights or how the revenue cut between the two looks. But it is known that in a good year, the UFC brings in around $250M in PPV revenue through its 12 telecasts, given that UFC takes roughly 60% cuts of the revenue from its deals with distributors. It is not likely that UFC would allow its PPV revenue to drop far from that figure.

Previously, UFC cut PPV deals with various distributors. “We’re really redefining the pay-per-view business,” said Endeavor President Mark Shapiro, whose company owns UFC. “It’s not moving away from pay-per-view. It’s evolving the pay-per-view model to be more in line with how fans are watching sports today.”

As part of the agreement, ESPN and UFC have extended their rights deal by two years in a pact believed to be worth $300M per year -- the same annual amount from the original deal (a five-year, $1.5B agreement). Both the rights deal and PPV deal run through '25. “The vision that we have right now for the sport and for the brand is exactly the direction that ESPN is going,” said UFC President Dana White. “We are completely aligned in everything that we’re working on and our plans for the next seven years.”

The first PPV card that will be part of this deal comes April 13 with UFC 236: Holloway vs Poirier 2, which will only be available to ESPN+ subs. Preliminary bouts on the PPV cards will continue to appear on the linear ESPN network. Existing ESPN+ subs can purchase UFC PPV events for $59.99. New ESPN+ subs can buy the PPVs and get one year of the streaming service for $79.99. “We believe that it’s the simplicity and the value for fans that really drove the thinking here,” said ESPN+ Exec VP & GM Russell Wolff. “(We are) giving fans a one-stop shop for all UFC pay-per-view events.” The deal represents another concerted effort by ESPN to drive subs to ESPN+. Disney last month said that ESPN+ now has 2 million paid subscribers.