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ESPN buys the rest of UFC programming and it makes sense if they’re ditching the NFL

By Zach Arnold | May 23, 2018

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Both WWE and UFC are filthy rich from new television deals.

RAW is staying on USA Network reportedly at triple the original price and Fox just paid $1 billion dollars for five years of Smackdown.

ESPN and Disney just bought the rights to all UFC programming. $150 million a year for 15 shows and now an additional $300 million a year (for the next five years) to get 27 more shows. 42 shows a year, with a significant portion of events streaming on ESPN+.

The television rights fees being paid to both WWE and UFC are outrageous but also justifiable.

American sports media boss Clay Travis has been screaming that WWE television rights fees have been dramatically undervalued. How many years did television executives suppress the value of WWE content by claiming that WWE’s audience demographics are young but poor? In other words, a bunch of undesirables and deplorables. Now NBC & Fox are paying WWE a premium for a consistent, stable audience. That’s the value of stability in a media landscape with no stability. Timing really is everything.

As for UFC venture capitalists getting $450 million a year from Disney? As we discussed two weeks ago, this fascinating story is all about the survival of ESPN. You can’t say Disney isn’t going all out here. Paying $450 million a year for UFC content is a huge risk. What Fox Sports discovered with UFC is that UFC fans really care about UFC and will watch UFC programming but converting that audience into fans of other Fox Sports programs didn’t pan out. Without UFC, Fox Sports 1 is largely irrelevant in comparison to ESPN. ESPN took out the major cornerstone for FS1’s justification to be carried on major cable providers. Fox had no choice but to go all-in with WWE. WWE will be a big part of Fox Sports 1 moving forward, either through shoulder programming or NXT down the road.

Where does UFC fit into the equation with ESPN?

You don’t pay UFC $450 million dollars a year for a cold product unless you anticipate another shoe dropping. That shoe could very well be the end of ESPN’s relationship with the NFL.

It is very well possible that UFC and Top Rank programming could replace Monday Night Football if the NFL takes their ball and goes elsewhere.

The NFL’s relationship with ESPN is completely dysfunctional. The NFL isn’t even hiding their disdain anymore for ESPN, especially with the multi-channel broadcast of the NFL Draft on Fox. Mel Kiper is practically an American sports institution and the NFL tried to kill that off (but it didn’t work).

The reason for the animosity between the two parties deals with ESPN’s coverage of the NFL regarding political and medical issues. The more talk there is about concussions, doping, and the national anthem, the worse it is for the NFL’s bottom line. It’s worse for the NFL because the team owners are largely clueless on how to react to hot issues.

Now this same poison is ready to surface between ESPN and the UFC. The difference is that Dana White has a couple of decades of experience fighting the media and bullying those who are most critical about him. Given what has happened with the NFL, will new management at ESPN tell its employees to lay off of UFC scandals? Or will we see new conflict at a level Dana White has never had to manage before?

Bottom line? Fox offered $200 million a year to keep the UFC and the venture capitalists found a more desperate customer in ESPN willing to pay the premium. WWE immediately grabbed Fox’s offer and ran with it. In the process, WWE’s stock has tripled over the last year and Vince McMahon has made the kind of money never thought possible in professional wrestling.

Topics: Media, MMA, Pro-Wrestling, UFC, WWE, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

2 Responses to “ESPN buys the rest of UFC programming and it makes sense if they’re ditching the NFL”

  1. Zheroen says:

    But 45 Huddle, you promised us all back in 2006 that once the UFC had a virtual monopoly on the MMA scene, it would become a major sport with household names and bigger market/mind share than hockey and soccer. Only Pride/Dream and Strikeforce were holding the sport back.
    What happened?


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