ESPN is going all in on the UFC.
After inking a five-year deal worth $750 million for 15 exclusive fight cards, ESPN has reportedly decided to take the entire UFC television rights package starting in 2019.
According to Variety, ESPN and the UFC have reached a deal that will see the Disney owned company pay approximately $300 million per year for a total of 30 fight cards that will start in January 2019. Additional sources confirmed the news to MMAWeekly on Tuesday.
The deal runs over five years worth reportedly $1.5 billion.
The UFC cards are expected to be split between ESPN and ESPN+, the new streaming service that was just launched by the sports giant earlier this year.
It’s the end of the UFC on FOX era
With ESPN bringing over the UFC, it signals an end of the seven-year relationship the mixed martial arts promotion had with FOX. The UFC still has until the end of 2018 on the FOX family of networks, but the company just recently decided to pay $1 billion for the rights to WWE ‘Smackdown Live’.
The ESPN deal will call for 30 fight cards per year with the UFC still doing pay-per-view events and maintaining UFC Fight Pass, its digital online streaming service.
The new television rights deal comes two years after Endeavor purchased the UFC for $4 billion. At the time, Endeavor hoped to get between $400 to $450 million for a new television rights deal, but they’ll settle for $300 million to move to ESPN. It was also rumored that the UFC hoped to ink a lengthier deal, but ESPN instead signed on for a five-year contract with the promotion.
Can the UFC be ESPN’s savior?
This deal also comes at a crucial time for ESPN after the sports juggernaut had been hemorrhaging subscribers at an alarming rate over the past few years. Former ESPN president John Skipper exited the company with new president James Pitaro taking his place. Pitaro, who comes from a digital background, put more emphasis on assets like the ESPN+ streaming service, which likely played a major part in teaming up with the UFC.
The overall UFC schedule will not ultimately change much going from FOX to ESPN, outside of the change of networks. The UFC ran 39 fight cards in 2017 and this new deal will only see a moderate increase with 30 cards on ESPN and ESPN+, in addition to 12 pay-per-view events. The UFC may also schedule additional events on UFC Fight Pass, but that has not been confirmed at this time.