ESPN will soon be the sole TV home to UFC — minus those dozen or so yearly pay-per-views, that is.
The self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” just added 15 more fights to its upcoming rights package, which begins in 2019 and now totals a whopping $1.5 billion — or $300 million over 5 years, a person with knowledge of the deal tells TheWrap.
That annual amount dwarfs what Fox Sports had previously been paying for all this UFC programming, which had averaged out to $116 million per year.
ESPN now holds 30 Ultimate Fighting Championship events per year, 20 of which will be broadcast on the network’s new streaming platform, ESPN+, with the other 10 to air on the linear network.
Those PPV events, which will not be exclusive to ESPN platforms, are booked about once a month.
“UFC fans are passionate and loyal and we plan to bring the full power of ESPN’s live coverage, powerful storytelling and unmatched distribution to serve them in an unprecedented fashion,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. “We can’t wait to get started.”
“Every year for the last 18 years, we have taken this sport and brand to another level,” added UFC president Dana White. “We find innovative ways to promote our athletes and build stars. Today is another monumental day for UFC, our athletes, and our fans. We are now part of the ESPN family, recognized around the world as the pinnacle in sports broadcasting. I am very excited for this next chapter for UFC.”
Combat sports rights are commanding tons of money these days.
Fox Sports was originally expected to maintain at least a portion of its UFC rights going forward, but ESPN submitted the higher offer for the submission (and knockout) game. Fox’s contingency prize after losing out on the real fights was some very valuable fake (err, predetermined) battles: As TheWrap exclusively reported on Monday, Fox broadcast channel will begin airing WWE “SmackDown” on Friday nights beginning in Fall 2019. That deal, which will also span five years, is expected to put about $1 billion dollars in the collective pockets of Vince McMahon’s shareholders.
Current “SmackDown” home USA Network will maintain WWE’s Monday flagship series, “Raw.” So, everyone’s a winner?