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Ari Emanuel praises ‘great relationship with ESPN’ but notes there are ‘a lot of buyers’ for next UFC broadcast rights deal

UFC 285: Neal v Rakhmonov Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Broadcast rights deals have remained the key revenue driver for sports in the United States for decades but despite concerns that perhaps the market was oversaturated, networks are still more than willing to pay big bucks to land coveted live sports packages.

As it stands, ESPN is currently the exclusive broadcast partner of the UFC after inking a seven-year deal worth around $300 million per year. As part of a two-year extension that now runs until 2025, ESPN also maintains exclusive rights to all UFC pay-per-view broadcasts, which is another lucrative profit machine for the MMA powerhouse.

Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel — the parent company to the UFC — recognizes that sports rights deals have continued to balloon in recent years, especially with the NBA about to negotiate a new contract as the league’s current deal also expires in 2025.

When it comes to the UFC’s deal, Emanuel had nothing but glowing reviews for the relationship they company has maintained with ESPN but he also can’t deny there are a lot of potential partners in the market vying for lucrative sports rights deals.

“We have a great relationship with ESPN, love our relationship with them, and we have a year left until we can start our renewal,” Emanuel said during an appearance at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom conference. “I think it’s going to be a positive outcome for both parties but there’s a lot of buyers out there.”

The so-called streaming wars have ignited even higher bidding for sports rights packages, which raises the stakes for traditional network and cable outlets. Amazon paid around $1 billion per year to land exclusive rights to Thursday night football games with the NFL.

While not as lucrative as the UFC, Major League Soccer also recently inked a 10-year, $2.5 billion deal with Apple that will result in most of the league’s games going behind a paywall for a subscription service just like Amazon.

Even before owning the UFC, Emanuel and Endeavor (previously William Morris Endeavor) represented the promotion during sports rights deals with FOX and eventually ESPN so this is familiar ground for the longtime executive.

“If you just look at sports rights, Formula 1 in the United States when I think from $5 million to $95 million [per year]. Hockey, I think was [$240 million per season], you saw what the NFL did,” Emanuel noted after the NFL signed a deal worth more than $100 billion in in 2021.

“We have pretty good knowledge because we have a 150 sports we represent in IMG, where sports rights are internationally and where they’re going domestically, our Big 10 deal that we just executed. We represented Wimbledon in their renegotiation. So we have a pretty good sense where it’s going.”

The Big 10 deal, which Endeavor negotiated, ended with the power conference earning $7 billion over a seven-year contract with FOX, CBS and NBC. Turner Sports, Apple and Amazon were also involved in negotiations to potentially land the Big 10 deal.

That sets a sizable precedent for what the UFC will look to earn on its next broadcast rights deal, especially as Emanuel touts the continued growth of the promotion after a huge number of sellouts in arenas over the past few years not to mention record profits generated year over year.

“You have six buyers in the marketplace,” Emanuel said. “When we made our first UFC deal, there was one buyer and the buyer was Bob Iger actually. He’s the one that actually brought it over.

“I think we’ve done an amazing job for the growth of ESPN+ and ESPN and we have The Contender Series. Now they just ordered The Ultimate Fighter that Conor McGregor is on. So all in all, it’s one of the fastest growing sports out there, that’s demographic, social and male/female and age category.”

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