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Can Bob Iger save ESPN’s cable future by acquiring UFC before he leaves Disney in 2019?

By Zach Arnold | October 4, 2017

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Intrepid MMA veteran writer Damon Martin is reporting that Fox Sports’ exclusive negotiating window with UFC has expired. UFC is now free to negotiate with other television networks. Fox will undoubtedly be given a right to match any offer. The network views UFC programming as critical to the future of Fox Sports given MMA’s product format of quick action and tight time windows.

A lot of things have changed in the television landscape in the last four months.

First, Bob Iger is leaving Disney in the middle of 2019. Iger has branched out into politics and those who have speculated a political run in his future aren’t looking so stupid right now. Iger, along with John Skipper, have been driving forces behind turning ESPN into a rabid political machine. With ESPN’s core cable business in decline and Trump television ratings hot, ESPN management embraced America’s political civil war. Trump is the raging topic in NFL and NBA social circles. Going to war against Trump is a pyrrhic victory for ESPN that will lead to long-term ratings erosion.

Disney is pushing ESPN into the world of streaming in 2018. The problem for ESPN is that they can’t air 100% of their cable content on their OTT platform due to contractual obligations. ESPN needs content that they can both own and stream without legal obstacles in the way. ESPN will be competing with both legacy cable networks and Silicon Valley pipelines (Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Hulu/Roku, Playstation Vue).

A collapsing ESPN would be a permanent stain on Bob Iger’s business legacy. Trump has already managed to weaponize ESPN as a tool in America’s cultural wars and has played a winning hand so far. Iger was on Trump’s business council but resigned over the Antifa vs. White Nationalists battle in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bob Iger admitted on Tuesday at a Vanity Fair summit that he personally got involved in ESPN personnel matters when ESPN host Jemele Hill called Trump a white supremacist.

The media coverage in 2017 about ESPN has been everything except sports. The latest salvo involves ESPN vs. Altice (Cablevision) in New York City. Conditions are deterioriating for ESPN and Disney is in the crosshairs. Disney needs to stop ESPN’s bleeding.

The best way to stop the bleeding is to take away the original cornerstone of Fox Sports 1. A marriage between ESPN and UFC seemed unthinkable as recent as six months ago. Not any more. Because…

Second, Amazon and Twitter are compiling huge amounts of video viewership data from their customers on streaming NFL programming. After two weeks of airing NFL games produced by CBS & NFL Network, Amazon executives are publicly stating how aggressive the appetite is for professional sports content on Amazon Prime.

This is disastrous news for ESPN. Amazon was already interested in obtaining the British video rights to the English Premier League. Amazon is in bed with the NFL. The NFL won’t be their last sports programming deal. WWE will be available in the coming years. ESPN has long-term marriages with the NFL and NBA that are costly and deliver much less bang-for-the-buck when compared to Twitter & Amazon. Not only has Silicon Valley swallowed up sports rights, they’ve managed to do it in a way where they aren’t putting out major expenditures on production.

The biggest, tastiest sports property on the market right now is UFC. UFC means a lot to Fox Sports. It’s hard to justify Fox Sports 1 surviving long-term as a television network without the channel being the home of major UFC events. The value is too great.

Keep in mind that Amazon has as many Prime subscribers as ESPN has households on American cable bundles. Amazon obtaining the rights to some, if not all, UFC programming along with managing Fight Pass would be a huge win for Amazon, UFC, and Reebok. It could create explosive merchandising growth opportunities for UFC.

ESPN needs to sign UFC to fend off both Fox Sports and Silicon Valley. Disney received a giant gut punch two months ago when Netflix poached away prolific American television power broker Shonda Rhimes. Disney is still very profitable and in good shape but ESPN is the albatross. It’s unlikely that Disney will be able to sell ESPN to venture capitalists given its monster television contracts with the NFL and NBA. Disney needs to give ESPN CPR and the best way to do it is to go all-in for UFC. Otherwise, ESPN will continue to bleed thanks to a death by a thousand paper cuts.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

2 Responses to “Can Bob Iger save ESPN’s cable future by acquiring UFC before he leaves Disney in 2019?”

  1. Diaz's packed bowl says:

    So NFL players, who, up until 2009 when the Army paid NFL $5+ million to advertise for them and “be patriotic”, were not even on the field for the Nat Anthem, decided to use a moment to make a peaceful statement about the racism in America by Kneeling in a MLK manner. Their rationale? to open a dialogue.

    Well the only dialogue is a bunch of new world order cronies like trump,spewing hate on them. The media would rather not open a dialogue either and instead portrays the american flag as the victim, not the discriminated who have no media budget to defend themselves.

    So now we have a mass shooting, the goal of which is to push gun control laws. And scummy zionist stooge bob Iger dismisses the NFL players statement about racism while claiming its controversy over respecting the flag. Using that wrong talking point as stepping stone to the BIG issues, namely that Americans have guns. Well of course that scares the NWO, since they can’t “add security” when its already in the hands of most americans.

    Disneys “family” brand sure could use a pure violence channel in the UFC, since they’re owners are pushing for ww3 with anyone, they need to push violence as a way to make money and solve problems.

    I’m giving up UFC for 2008. Its just pathetic now. The idiotic fighters bad mouthing eachother while their boss is pulling in 18 million a year.
    Seriously, what other job do you know of where hostility between employees is a REQUIREMENT?
    None of the NEW cte prospects hold any interest for me. Once all the old trailblazer guys are gone, i’m done watching. The UFC hasn’t cultivated any respect for anything except groveling for more money.

    Plenty of other non political mma out there. Legacy, bellator, One, Road, Rizin, cage warriors, lots of good fights without all the low life political social change scummery of the UFC.

  2. Diaz's packed bowl says:

    UFC statement Re the Hunt removal…
    ÔÇťAthlete health and safety is of the utmost importance to the organisation(not spelling) and it would never knowingly schedule an athlete complaining of health issues for a fight.”

    Unless that fighter is a hot young prospect were pushing the heck out of, like Kevin Lee.

    UFC cherry picks who can and can’t fight by selectively using the above statement.

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