You’re going to be seeing a lot more UFC on ESPN starting soon.
The Hollywood Reporter had the scoop: ESPN and UFC have finalized a five-year deal to bring the mixed martial arts fighting brand to ESPN proper. The deal, at $150 million per year, follows one made earlier this month that put UFC content on ESPN+, the network’s new streaming service.
Combined, the two deals with ESPN are worth a reported $1.5 billion. Both deals begin in early 2019. THR reports Fox was playing $116-$130 million annually, and balked at an increase. Earlier this week, Fox reportedly struck a deal to air WWE SmackDown Live for $1 billion over five years.
The earlier deal with ESPN+ was for 15 live UFC cards; Variety reports this new deal brings 15 more live shows to ESPN’s channels. Though interest in UFC has declined as the sport suffers from a lack of star power—Conor McGregor had a boxing match last summer you may have heard about, then went wild and upended UFC 223 this year, while Ronda Rousey is now in WWE—THR’s Marisa Guthrie explains that the fanbase has a median age of 40, among the youngest in sports. That’s advertiser gold.
As for UFC, the deals with ESPN mean they don’t have to rely as much on big paydays from hyped-up pay-per-view fights. The company will get $1.5 billion over the next five years regardless of whether they create any new stars or not. WME-IMG bought UFC from Zuffa in the summer of 2016 for $4.2 billion.
As Dave Meltzer explained at MMA Fighting last week, ESPN is also using UFC’s lower-profile fights as a loss-leader to drive people to their new ESPN+ subscription service. With UFC on ESPN+ and on ESPN’s channels, expect to see a lot more UFC coverage on ESPN’s news and debate shows. The first viral clip of Stephen A. Smith debating some UFC shit is going to be great.