The UFC on Fox Sports era is coming to an end.
Variety reported on Tuesday night that ESPN, which already snagged rights to up to 15 live UFC events per year on its new streaming service ESPN+, has also won the television rights package, which will bring an additional 15 fight cards to the network, making for 30 per year starting in 2019.
Sources familiar with negotiations say ESPN has struck a deal for a second portion to the package currently held by Fox Sports that will bring the total cost in the neighborhood of $300 million per year for five years, totaling $1.5 billion. The new deals, which cover a total of 30 fights, kick in early 2019.
Reps from ESPN, UFC and Fox Sports could not be reached for comment.
As with their other pact, the events covered under this deal will be split between ESPN’s linear channels and ESPN+, the new streaming service launched last month.
The article also noted that the UFC will still have pay-per-view events, as well as the UFC Fight Pass streaming service, even though live fight cards will be shown on ESPN+. It is not known at this point how many PPVs the UFC will run moving forward under the new deal, but if there’s no reduction then you’re still looking at more than 40+ fight cards per year.
This comes on the heels of news that Fox will broadcast WWE’s SmackDown on a 5-year, $1 billion contract. Interestingly enough, The Hollywood Reporter noted at the time that “Fox is willing to pay about $175 million annually for the MMA promotion.” Perhaps that was a sign that Fox was ready to move on from the UFC.
It had been reported last year that Endeavor was looking for rights fees in the neighborhood of $450 million, then a Variety article from April said that they wanted somewhere in the $300-$400 million range. This puts them at the absolute lowest end of that total, but it’s still more than double what FOX is paying them right now, and it’s a landmark moment for the UFC to be with the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” and it opens the door for more mainstream coverage and more attention to the product than what they had with Fox Sports.