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ESPN brokers deal for UFC broadcast rights currently owned by FOX

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

FOX Sports is out and ESPN is in.

Just weeks after nabbing the UFC’s streaming rights beginning next year, ESPN has secured the full broadcast deal for the promotion, Variety reported Tuesday night. The deal would begin in 2019 and signals that FOX Sports will no longer carry UFC events, which it has since 2011. ESPN, its group of networks and the digital streaming ESPN+ will be the small-screen, non-pay-per-view home for the UFC starting next year.

ESPN confirmed the report Wednesday morning and followed up later with a press releasing announcing the news.

ESPN announced May 8 that it had secured 15 UFC events per year for ESPN+, beginning in 2019. The Sports Business Journal reported at the time that it was a five-year deal, worth $150 million per year, which also included elements of UFC Fight Pass and the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series.

In the release, ESPN broke down how the UFC cards will be distributed under the new deal — 20 events on ESPN+ and the other 10 on ESPN networks. Also mentioned was the Contender Series, as well as a “new original, all-access series produced by IMG Original Content.” There was no mention of The Ultimate Fighter, which is currently airing on FS1 and will go into its 28th season later this year.

According to Variety on Tuesday, the revised deal will have the Disney-owned ESPN getting 30 UFC cards per year, pushing the valuation of the contract to $1.5 billion over that same span of time — $300 million per year. The UFC will still run 12 pay-per-view events per year, according to the ESPN release.

ESPN+ will also get pre- and post-fight shows for all 30 ESPN cards; part of the UFC Fight Pass archive and original programming; Countdown shows and other shoulder programming; press conferences; and weigh-in shows.

FOX was paying the UFC about $100 million per year over seven years on the current contract. The UFC was hoping to up that figure to around $400 annually when this deal expired.

Earlier this week, multiple outlets reported that FOX had signed a deal with WWE to bring its Smackdown show to the network beginning next year. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Fox is paying $205 million per year annually for the program and moving it to Friday night from Tuesday. Smackdown currently airs on USA Network. WWE’s Raw show is still up for grabs, with NBC Universal, USA’s parent company, reportedly preparing a large bid.