By Zach Arnold | December 24, 2013
By analyst Tim Stark
The inimitable Ross Finkelstein broke the news on Twitter about UFC’s new online network called UFC Fight Pass. A detailed announcement is expected to be discussed this weekend at UFC 168 in Las Vegas. The rumored price is $10 a month for approximately 15 B-level and C-level fight cards along with access to Zuffa’s MMA library which includes both PRIDE & Strikeforce content. In other words, it’s a glorified upgrade of what they’ve been doing with the Comcast On-Demand service.
So, how does this deal compare to the current online network landscape amongst streaming services available from major sports leagues? Let’s start off with a basic chart of the established sports leagues and then go from there:
- MLB.tv – $130 (2430 Games)
- NHL Gamecenter – $169 (1230 Games)
- NFL Sunday Ticket – $300 (256 Games)
- NBA League Pass – $200 (1230 Games)
- MLS Live – $60 (230 Games)
The prices listed are for the most expensive online packages. MLB has a cheaper option for non-mobile consumers. Many of the current packages are not without their flaws. The NBA blacks out games that air on ABC & Turner Sports. There are additional local blackout restrictions for live broadcasts. However, you can view about 95% of the games within a 48 hour time span if you purchase any of the sports packages.
Throw in a “zero TV” package with sports packages online to complete your cord-cutting. For comparison’s sake, here are prices for some of the “zero TV” services:
- Netflix – $96 Per Year
- Hulu Plus – $96 Per Year
- Amazon Prime Instant Streaming – $79 Per Year (with free shipping)
In comparison to other online sports packages & zero TV options, the UFC is asking you to pay nearly $600 for 13 annual PPV events plus $120 (or more) for 15 B-level & C-level shows airing on UFC Fight Pass.
I order the PPVs. $64.99 Canadian for each PPV x 13 PPVs = $845. Plus $10 x 12 for Digital Network = $120. So $965 to watch all UFC in 2014.
— Adam Martin (@MMAdamMartin) December 24, 2013
Over $700 a year to watch MMA? This is crazy. That’s more than double what the NFL charges and you can watch at least four NFL games for free on broadcast television every week. UFC Fight Pass looks like small potatoes compared to other online sports packages available for consumers heading in 2014.
Enter the WWE Network
While the UFC is playing small ball, WWE is going for a home run. A major announcement — in Las Vegas, home to UFC, of all places — will be made in January to discuss details about the upcoming WWE Network. It originally was going to be a cable operation but now it’s going to be an online channel. There’s no suger-coating the fact that a significant portion of UFC’s audience also watches WWE. The rumored price tag for the WWE Network is $15 a month. You can view the proposed WWE Network details here. It will be an online channel that features a massive video library, all current WWE content, and B-level PPVs. The channel will shrink the WWE’s annual PPV calendar and restore some sanity for wrestling fans who were shelling out a ton of cash to buy crappy PPVs.
Even at $15 a month, that price point is affordable. You can already watch RAW & Smackdown on Hulu. WWE is looking to make a deal with a major media conglomerate to bring digital media rights to the internet platform of their next partner. The amount of exposure WWE is looking to achieve is remarkable in scope. If you include the price tag for the WWE Network subscription and WWE’s big four PPVs (Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Summerslam, and Survivor Series), it’s about a $400 yearly bill. Compared to what UFC is offering, it’s a winner.
There is no current service available in sports/entertainment that is as bad of a purchase as the UFC Fight Pass for the money they are charging.
Pay walls suck for exposure — just ask the newspapers
Who will get hurt the most by being relegated to the UFC Fight Pass subscription channel? The young fighters who UFC plans on spotlighting & recruiting. The UFC is in need of new stars and the only way you do that is by creating as much exposure as possible. Fighting only on PPV or behind an online pay wall is a disservice for young prospects.
Take Alexander Gustafsson for example. He had an amazing fight with Jon Jones for the UFC Light Heavyweight title in Toronto. The fans voted him to be on the cover of the upcoming UFC video game. And instead of fighting on Super Bowl weekend or on a Fox broadcast show, he’s going to be fight on a show airing on UFC Fight Pass. The UFC wants him to be a main event attraction. So they’re putting him on a show nobody is going to pay to watch.
Fighting only on PPV hurts. Fighting behind an online pay wall hurts. And, so far, the Fox Sports 1 experiment has demonstrated wildly inconsistent ratings for fights. However, one thing is for sure — there has been an impact on UFC’s PPV buy rates featuring their biggest fighters. Anderson Silva’s fight with Chris Weidman drew around 525,000 buys. GSP’s fight with Johny Hendricks drew around 650,000 buys. Those are healthy numbers but they are not superstar numbers that UFC’s former aces were pulling in. The combination of the new guys not attracting mainstream appeal along with the FS1 platform has exacerbated UFC’s concerns in building real stars.
With international talent being shoveled onto UFC Fight Pass, the majority of fans will have no access to watch these fighters in action. We’re reaching a point where UFC fighters with 7 or 8 wins could be complete unknowns to UFC fans. They may as well not exist.
What needs to change
In order for UFC Fight Pass to work, the promotion needs to adopt some of WWE’s business tactics and shift some of their B-level PPVs online. Make it a $15/month subscription service that includes 6 or 8 PPVs. It would level out the purchase cost of UFC Fight Pass plus the bigger PPVs to around $500 a year. At least you would be increasing the amount of live fights that cord cutters would be able to watch outside of the Fox Sports universe.
The UFC may be the only major player in the MMA space right now but they are facing stiff competition in the general sports space for digital content marketing. The manner in which UFC Fight Pass is currently constructed is set up for minimum risk but also minimum gain. It’s simply not a competitive solution against what their general sports rivals are up to. We’re used to seeing big & bold decisions from the UFC. The UFC Fight Pass falls short of expectations.