Thanks to the inevitable expiration of a contract, the FOX era of the UFC is coming to close, with ESPN soon taking over as the major broadcaster of Octagon-related content.
*Pours a little of my Starbucks coffee out for the FOX homies no longer with us*
Okay, so we know the UFC is a multi-billion dollar operation now, and with that huge valuation and subsequent loan- and investor obligations to take care of, you have to assume that the UFC really wrung out the most money they could from ESPN. And they probably did. Because even though the sport lost its biggest stars in Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey, and Conor McGregor pretty much does what he wants and can’t be counted on for consistent revenue, the UFC still has the potential to have monster money-making years when new stars emerge. So of course ESPN would want a piece of that.
But was the deal truly a good one for the UFC? MMAFighting‘s Dave Meltzer thinks maybe not.
Being on ESPN has its obvious advantages: A sports property having the promotional synergy of working with the sports leader in the U.S. It’s a lock that there will be more promotional time to events, and the fighters, particularly the ones with personalities, will have more opportunities to sell themselves to a far larger sports audience than before. The deal also has its disadvantages, including far less television airtime and no broadcast network component, as well as no longer being top dog on a station, but simply being one of many, and inherently a far lower-profile sports property than the big five (NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and basketball) on the station.
The negative is fewer television shows and fewer television hours.
In 2018, between FOX, FS1, and FS2, the UFC will be on approximately 35 or 36 television dates and have 159 live fight hours. With the new deal, that declines in 2019 to 22 television dates and 54 total hours per year.
Another key is that FS1 on most Saturdays was broadcasting five hours. ESPN, on the other hand, will not only broadcast fewer dates, but its live shows will only be three hours. The one thing that had changed in recent years is that the UFC audience that had remained was more likely to be watching some or all of the prelims in greater number than ever before.
In other words, whereas FOX spread UFC content around like butter on toast, ESPN won’t be doing the same. That’s less exposure, and less potential for growth.
Was the deal a good one? Time will tell.