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UFC pay-per-view events moving exclusively to ESPN+, distribution deal extended

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Dana White will address questions from the media at the UFC 205 press conference Tuesday.
Dana White will address questions from the media at the UFC 205 press conference Tuesday.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC is going all the way in with ESPN.

Beginning next month with UFC 236, the only way to purchase a UFC pay-per-view card at home in the United States will be through ESPN+, it was announced Monday. Only subscribers to ESPN+ will be able to buy UFC PPV cards, at a reduced rate of $59.99 per event, the press release said.

In addition, it was announced that ESPN and the UFC have extended their distribution agreement for two more years. It will now expire in 2025, rather than 2023. The UFC initially signed a five-year distribution deal with ESPN last year, which began in January. It has been expanded to seven years.

The financial numbers of the extended contract have not been made public. The original, five-year deal was reportedly worth $1.5 billion. UFC was previously with Fox Sports.

“Today’s announcement further establishes the strength of the partnership between UFC and ESPN,” UFC president Dana White said in a statement. “Now our fans will be able to watch all UFC events exclusively on ESPN platforms, including ESPN+, which is an innovative way to deliver fights to our young fan base. I couldn’t be more excited to work with ESPN for the next seven years. Together we’re going to do amazing things to help grow this sport.”

ESPN+ is currently scheduled to be showing 20 UFC “fight night” events per year on its platform for subscribers. The cost of the service is $4.99 per month of $49.99 per year. About 10 more events per year will air on ESPN’s cable channels with prelims airing on ESPN+.

Another 12 are UFC pay-per-view events, which will now air exclusively — for purchase — on ESPN+. Prior to the change, UFC PPV events were available through U.S. cable and satellite operators, like Comcast and DirecTV, as well as UFC.tv and Amazon.

With the new deal, ESPN+ will offer a bundle option, offering new ESPN+ subscribers 12 months of the digital sports streaming service with one UFC PPV event included for $79.99 ($30 more than the usual yearly price for ESPN+).

“With the addition of UFC PPV events, we are making ESPN+ an absolute must-have for any fan of the UFC and mixed martial arts,” Kevin Mayer, Disney’s chairman of direct-to-consumer & international operations, said in a statement. “In less than a year, ESPN+ has established itself as the leader in direct-to-consumer sports and this new programming agreement adds a significant business to our platform while reinforcing the value and strength of our product and our content lineup.”

This is big news in the sports, entertainment and distribution rights world. UFC makes most of its money off pay-per-view revenue. Per Variety, the promotion made more than $700 million in the 12 months ending on March 31, 2018, per estimates from Moody’s, with a large portion of that stemming from PPV buys.

In January, in accordance with the UFC’s debut on ESPN+, ESPN announced that the service signed up 568,000 subscribers in two days. Disney said last month that ESPN+ is now over 2 million subscribers, less than a year after launch.

UFC will still sell its PPV events to commercial establishments like bars and restaurants.

Boxing will now really be the only combat sport selling fight cards with the traditional pay-per-view model. WWE moved all of its monthly PPV cards to its digital service WWE Network in 2014.

“The extremely successful launch of the UFC on ESPN+ emphatically demonstrated the collective power and scale of ESPN and DTCI, and we couldn’t be more excited to continue to drive passionate fans to these new pay per view experiences,” ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said.