By Zach Arnold | December 24, 2015
UFC starts shifting Fs1 main events to FP, UFC just created an internal competitor to fox .. Price goes up when they do new deal couple yrs
— FrontRowBrian® (@FrontRowBrian) December 24, 2015
Anderson Silva will fight Michael Bisping on February 27th in London. The event will not air on Fox Sports — it will air on UFC’s Internet site instead.
The obvious question: what’s the motive? The conventional wisdom is that UFC is trying to boost the value of their OTT (over-the-top) play in order to gain leverage when the Fox Sports deal expires. If that’s the wisdom, I don’t buy into it at all.
UFC has value for Fox Sports 1. It does not possess value for big Fox. The network TV cards simply aren’t promoted right. After the Cain Velasquez fight went so quickly, so did the amount of advertising by the television network.
The problem for UFC is simple — ESPN is in rocky shape long-term. Disney knows it. I would not be shocked to see major firings at ESPN early next year over the bloated new TV rights deals signed with the NBA and other sports properties. ESPN was very interested in Al Haymon’s PBC because he was paying the bill, not ESPN. So far, the PBC experiment has been lackluster to say the least.
The combination of ESPN tying itself up with significantly bloated TV rights deals along with cord shaving/cord cutting means Disney has a real problem on their hands. Their most recent filing with the SEC shows some damage. A couple of years ago, ESPN would have been in prime position to poach UFC away from Fox. Now? Not so much. ESPN has been rather generous in giving UFC publicity and Dana White has played ball with them much more than he has Fox Sports 1.
If ESPN isn’t in the picture for leverage, then UFC has to create something as a leverage point to create even the appearance of a bidding war. Or, in this case, an Over-The-Top play.
I wasn’t bullish on WWE Network but at least I got the logic. Jonathan Snowden said that WWE Network and other OTT plays would take the concept of PPV and shoot it in the head. WWE Network is proving that the cost for obtaining complete control over distribution of your product is significant because people aren’t willing to pay as much for your product in the future.
UFC Fight Pass is boxed in a corner. Fight Pass is not meant to be like WWE Network in moving away from PPV but it’s also not meant to be simply a niche multimedia portal. The problem is that when you try to be all things to all people, it usually disappoints.
I have no doubt that Anderson Silva’s return fight will boost subscriptions to Fight Pass. How many subscribers will it be worth? Can you get more than 50,000 additional subscribers?
When you have an announcement on this level, you usually don’t see it buried in a Christmas Eve news dump. We’re living in interesting times.