With the UFC moving from FOX Sports to ESPN starting in 2019, they’ll be under the same network as Top Rank Boxing. In other words, bitter rivals Dana White and Bob Arum have to share the airwaves for the next several years, and this coming after Arum claimed the UFC tried to buy Top Rank’s fight library.
Considering how many weekends the UFC and (to a lesser extent) Top Rank command, how does ESPN plan to handle scheduling these two fight promotions moving forward? According to ESPN executive VP of Scheduling and Programming Burke Magnus, we might see them paired up for a combat sports doubleheader. (Via The Big Lead)
UFC and Top Rank are both often on Saturday night. Could there be evenings with dual promotion between the two, or will they remain distinct?
Magnus: I could easily see that. What I’m fond of saying to people is if the genie came out of the bottle and granted me one wish it would be for 104 Saturday nights per year. I think there’s no doubt that we’ll look to pair the two. In both cases, because of the staging aspects to it, we could also use timezones to our advantage. Like we did this year with Top Rank coming out of an SEC football game on a Saturday night with a big lead-in, we can do that kind of scheduling as well thanks to the fact that these things can be scheduled accordingly.
Just last December, the UFC had an FS1 card in Fresno, while Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux aired on ESPN. Under the new broadcast deal, we could see, for example, a Lomachenko fight serve as a lead-in to a UFC Fight Night, or vice versa. One thing that is certain is ESPN is committed to combat sports programming for the long-term, something that wasn’t the case even a few years ago.
Another nugget from Magnus is the use of the UFC’s own fight library, and how they’ll distribute archived content through ESPN’s linear television networks, along with the ESPN+ streaming service.
How does ESPN plan to utilize UFC’s library, which is part of the deal?
Magnus: It’s in there. It’ll be a combination of linear and digital on ESPN+. I actually love the versatility of the library for linear on a slow night where there might not be much going on. In primetime we could throw on an old or even fairly recent PPV cards or just make a compilation event. It’s in the deal. Because they have Fight Pass and that’s the one place you can get it all, our library rights will have many hours, but it will rotate so you won’t have it all at one time.
For now, the UFC has to finish out its contract with FOX Sports. By the way, UFC 225 is running opposite Top Rank’s Terence Crawford vs. Jeff Horn, which is on ESPN+.
(H/T Robert Joyner)