The UFC’s partnership with ESPN began in July, but the two sides clearly like the direction the relationship is headed, and have committed to big changes going forward. In addition to signing a new two-year extension that covers the UFC on ESPN deal until 2025, a monumental change in how fans watch fights was also revealed, one that has been
On Monday, the UFC and ESPN revealed that the ESPN+ app will be the new, exclusive home to watch UFC pay-per-view events. Keep in mind this is only for United States residents — other countries around the world will continue to watch the events how they were before — but it’s clearly a huge change. Instead of ordering PPVs through a satellite or cable provider, fans in the U.S. will now have to subscribe to the ESPN+ app to order the events. It’s a big change for the UFC, who have gone with the previous method of ordering their shows since their debut back in 1993, though looking deeper into the deal, it might not be as good of a deal as UFC president Dana White has told fans that it is.
The UFC did drop the price of their PPVs to $59.99, down from $64.99, but fans will have to pay the $5 subscription fee for ESPN+, so in many ways it’s a wash. The UFC and ESPN are offering a deal that includes a year-long subscription of ESPN+ for $79.99 with one free pay-per-view included, but overall there doesn’t seem to be a huge cost savings to fans. That’s unlike the WWE’s deal with their own network, which costs $10 a month and gives fans the PPVs for free.
Instead, early accounts are that the UFC is the ones making out best on this deal as they no longer have to go 50/50 on the PPV split with the satellite and cable providers, and can keep a larger portion of revenue for themselves and for ESPN. For the UFC it seems like a great coup just like the Reebok deal was, though it remains to be seen if this is truly a good thing for the fans, and especially the fighters (more on that below). Indeed, immediate reaction to the move has been split among fans on social media, with many saying the UFC has been disingenuous in how this move benefits them.
It’s also unclear if this is a good deal for the fighters, as big stars and main event headliners used to take home a portion of pay-per-view revenue. It’s not exactly clear yet how that will work going forward, but one would hope the fighters get a good deal out of this as well. Based on how lopsided the Reebok deal was in the UFC’s favor, though, it’s unlikely to benefit them all that much.
In addition to ESPN signing a two-year extension with the UFC, White has also signed a new seven-year contract that will take hime to the end of 2025, so the bossman will be around for a while. There had been speculation in recent years that ESPN brass may boot out White for someone like Daniel Cormier, but clearly that isn’t happening anytime soon as White will be around for seven years to come.
How the UFC on ESPN deal will play out is truly is a wait-and-see situation. It may ultimately be a very good thing for fans, but right now, it seems like it’s another way for the UFC to generate more revenue for its shareholders without giving any more money to the fighters, nor give fans any significant break as far as expenditure goes. We’ll see what happens over the course of the next seven years, but right now this move looks like a big money-grab for the UFC and nothing else.