It’s been nearly a month since ESPN launched its direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service, ESPN+. Priced at $4.99 per month, the service affords a wide range of live sports, original content and on-demand programming although critically, the price of admission does not include access to ESPN’s eight television channels.
In a nutshell, this means ESPN+ is essentially carrying content that couldn’t be squeezed into its television platforms – filler or very niche content, if you will. I’ve been critical of this in the past and questioned just how successful the streaming offering would be but now, I may have a reason to consider subscribing (but I’m not happy about it).
ESPN, The Walt Disney Company (Disney owns ESPN) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have announced a multi-year agreement that’ll deliver 15 live UFC events each year starting in January 2019. Each event, branded as “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night” and exclusive to ESPN+, will feature a full card of 12 bouts.
In addition to the live fights, ESPN+ subscribers will also get access to exclusive, all-new seasons of Dana White’s Contender Series beginning in June 2019, an original all-access series produced by IMG Original Content, exclusive pre- and post-fight shows, access to the UFC’s full archive of programming and more.
Terms of the deal were not publicized although one source told USA Today Sports that ESPN will pay the UFC $150 million per year over the five-year term.
As an MMA fan, it’s an attractive offer but one that could ultimately cost you more money in the long run.
Many of the UFC’s Fight Night cards currently air on Fox – either “big” Fox (the one that's free over-the-air) or on FS1, etc. Others are shown exclusively on Fight Pass, the UFC’s branded subscription streaming service that sells for $9.99 per month.
The problem is that the UFC isn’t getting rid of Fight Pass so presumably, to watch all fights, you’ll need to subscribe to some sort of premium cable service, Fight Pass and ESPN+ (remember, the deal with Fox ends this year although it’s looking as if it’ll be renewed in the coming weeks) plus purchase pay-per-view events at $64.99 a pop (in HD).
With fewer fights and the loss of the Contender Series, however, Fight Pass suddenly doesn’t seem like all that great of a deal at $9.99 per month (perhaps a price cut to $4.99 per month is in order). Plus, at some point, one has to wonder if the UFC is spreading itself too thin by dishing up content on too many different platforms. Granted, I’ll watch fights any day of the week but having to pay for cable and two different streaming subscriptions plus PPVs is a lot to ask.
All things considered, the deal with the UFC is good news for ESPN as it adds a bit of legitimacy and exclusivity to ESPN+. Diehard MMA fans that want to take in every UFC fight will have no choice but to pony up and pay for ESPN’s subscription service. With exclusive fights, I’ve now got a reason to consider ESPN+ (I certainly wasn’t interested in paying $4.99 a month for non-mainstream tennis and golf coverage).