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UFC, ESPN+ to air 15 events starting in January 2019

UFC TV Deal

The UFC isn't yet at their reported $400 million a year goal for their TV rights, but they got a bit closer on Tuesday morning as the promotion announced they have entered into an agreement with ESPN to air 15 Fight Night events on ESPN's new OTT service, ESPN+, beginning in January 2019.

The five-year deal is for $150 million annually. according to the Sports Business Journal who had the story first. Additionally, they added this kills any chance another streaming provider could get in the mix as it's an exclusive deal.

Each show will have the usual 12 fights and will be available exclusively on the platform, which currently costs $4.99/mo or $49.99 for a year-long subscription.

Additional ESPN+ content

Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series will also move exclusively to ESPN+ in the summer of June 2019, a show originally exclusive to UFC Fight Pass. 

Additionally, ESPN will produce exclusive pre and post fight shows for the 15 events and a "new original, all-access series" produced by IMG Original content. Interestingly, the press release also states that ESPN+ subscribers will get "non-exclusive access to UFC’s full archive of programming, including historic events, classic bouts, and original programming" and "additional UFC-branded content, including “UFC Countdown” shows, press conferences, weigh-ins, and pre-and post-shows", diminishing one of the selling points of Fight Pass.

ESPN+ subscribers will also be able to buy PPVs and Fight Pass subscriptions.

What about "big" ESPN?

In the release, ESPN said they will air exclusive preview shows for PPVs, "hundreds of hours of UFC library programming" and "re-airs of current UFC PPVs" but nothing about live events. This is a play to give people a reason to pay for their relatively new OTT service, hence the heavy price tag for just 15 shows a year.

What about Fox?

As anyone that follows UFC knows, they run a lot more than 15 shows a year, so a broadcast partner is still needed. SBJ said no broadcast deal was imminent, but as a Variety report from mid-April speculated, ESPN and Fox Sports were proposing to team up for a deal that would cover all the bases.

With 15 events off the table, one would assume a broadcast deal would include 15-20 shows depending on the company's plans for both PPV and Fight Pass and assuming they want to keep running at the current shows per year level they have in recent years.