Endeavor — the parent company to the UFC — acquired streaming company NeuLion for a purchase price of $250 million earlier this week.
NeuLion’s streaming service has worked with numerous sports outlets and networks over the years, including the NFL, NBA, Univision, and the Big 10 Network.
NeuLion also served as the pay-per-view streaming partner with the UFC and Showtime to present the mega-fight last year that saw Floyd Mayweather face Conor McGregor in a boxing match that ended up as the second biggest card in pay-per-view history.
Ironically, the UFC ended up offering refunds for some of those pay-per-view purchases due to technical issues that were blamed on NeuLion.
“We want our fans to have the best experience when watching our events. Unfortunately, we didn’t deliver the way we wanted to on Saturday because of NeuLion’s technical issues on UFC.TV,” White said in a statement this past August.
Despite that hiccup in the relationship, the UFC’s parent company obviously saw something they liked in dealing with NeuLion and valued the company enough to spend $250 million to purchase it.
Is the UFC Going to Cut the Cord?
Buying NeuLion will definitely spur rumors that Endeavor is considering abandoning a new television rights deal for the UFC and instead going directly to consumers with a streaming service.
Endeavor — headed up by co-CEO Ari Emanuel — has been embroiled in negotiations for a new UFC television deal since late last year with their current contract with FOX coming to an end at the close of 2018. Endeavor was reportedly seeking a new deal worth around $450 million per year with FOX offering the mixed martial arts promotion around $200 million during the first round of negotiations.
UFC Could Be Competing with WWE for FOX Deal
Since that time, sources have said that FOX upped its offer, but not by a significant amount, as the company continues to explore other options if UFC programming leaves the network. FOX is also reportedly interested in obtaining the broadcast rights for WWE with its current deal with USA Network (NBC/Comcast) coming to an end later this year.
WWE gets much higher ratings than UFC programming on a consistent basis with the possibility of drawing even bigger audiences if certain shows air directly on FOX as opposed to FS1.
UFC has also reportedly received interest from Turner Sports, but that offer could hinge on the current merger talks with AT&T, which is locked in a trial at the justice department with no indication on whether or not the U.S. government will sign off on the deal.
What About Streaming on Amazon, Facebook, or Apple?
Of course, the UFC could still strike a deal with another streaming service, such as Amazon, Facebook, or even Apple, but the purchase of NeuLion certainly hints at the fact that Endeavor is considering an alternative to a broadcast rights deal.
Sources have said that Endeavor hoped to wrap up the UFC television rights negotiations by the end of summer, so there’s still plenty of time between now and then for the company to lock down a new deal or potentially begin setting up plans for a direct-to-consumer streaming service instead.