The UFC and ESPN jointly announced this afternoon that ESPN+ will become the exclusive destination for and distributor of the MMA company’s pay-per-view events. The seven-year deal expands on the partnership between UFC and ESPN’s standalone streaming service, which replaced Fox Sports as the home of UFC Fight Night earlier this year. ESPN+ already streamed preliminary matches for UFC pay-per-views under that deal, but now it’s becoming the central go-to for everything. UFC handles all production of its own events, but Disney hopes that being the place where consumers go to watch it will be a major boost for its first direct-to-consumer streaming service.
New ESPN+ subscribers will be able to subscribe to one year of the service, plus a UFC PPV for a combined price of $79.99. For existing ESPN+ customers — the service has over 2 million subscribers — UFC pay-per-views will cost $59.99 each. (ESPN+ costs $4.99 per month.)
The UFC says it will continue distributing PPV fights to commercial locations, so you don’t have to worry about ESPN ruining your watch parties at the local sports bar. But traditional cable and satellite providers are getting cut out with this new arrangement, which begins on April 13th with UFC 236. “UFC’s digital brands — UFC.TV, UFC.com and UFC App — will continue to serve as a consumer entry point for PPV events,” the UFC said in its press release. The company’s own UFC Fight Pass will continue to stream prelims along with offering replays of old events.
But UFC boss Dana White says ESPN+ will “deliver the best pay-per-view experience ever, with unrivaled access to live fights. You get replays, archives, originals, and so much more. If you are a UFC fan, ESPN+ is a must have.” Disney certainly wants fight fans to reach the same conclusion. The service doesn’t have SportsCenter or marquee shows that air on the ESPN network, instead focusing on live games and originals. ESPN+ offers limited MLB and NHL games, but streams a much larger number of live events from MLS, Grand Slam tennis, Top Rank boxing, PGA Tour golf, college sports, international rugby, cricket, and more. It’s also the only place to find the entire 30 for 30 catalog.
Disney says it “may explore other potential packaging in the months ahead” for ESPN+ and UFC. Remember that Disney+ will be shown to the company’s investors next month ahead of a consumer launch expected later this year. And Disney will have a majority stake in Hulu once its acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s assets is finally cleared; that’s expected to happen as early as tomorrow night. So you can envision some combination of ESPN+, UFC pay-per-views, and even Hulu all mixed together in the future.