When the UFC tried to run its UFC 249 pay-per-view on April 18th in California, Dana White says he was told to stand down by top Disney and ESPN executives. At the time, ESPN had released this short statement.
“ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249. Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons.
“ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC and they understood.”
Well if April wasn’t the right time, then May apparently is more than ideal. The UFC intends to run shows on May 9th, 13th, 16th, and 23rd, starting with UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje on the 9th. ESPN has issued a new statement on the return of UFC action.
“Sports play an important role in people’s lives and can bring moments of escape in challenging times. We look forward to bringing UFC to fans again,” the statement read (via ESPN’s Brett Okamoto).
ESPN has a lucrative multi-year deal with the UFC, providing 42 events per year across television and streaming platforms. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the UFC hasn’t run an event since March 14th and have only held eight shows thus far in 2020.
If ESPN’s statement is anything to go by, it feels like confirmation that had California Governor Gavin Newsom not called Disney directly expressing concern over 249 happening in his state, the network would’ve let the event go on as planned.
Now that the UFC’s next several shows are headed for Florida, where sports are considered an “essential service” and they will be regulated by a state commission, any issues of “skirting by” local regulations is no longer an issue.