The UFC is nearing a new television broadcast deal, seven years after it made history by partnering up with Fox to bring MMA into the mainstream. A lot has changed since 2011, and we’ve seen the number of events skyrocket while the quality of events plummeted. Superstars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor elevated the UFC for a time, but now the “Super Bowl of MMA” seems to be taking it’s guaranteed ratings and possibly spreading them out in a joint TV deal between ESPN and Fox Sports. Sadly, it seems like it’s only going to divide the fanbase further and hit their wallets.
It’s already well-known that being an MMA fan has been historically tough. The old days were filled with tape trading, light-night Japanese events, and PPV bans, but now it’s a matter of being nickel and dimed to death, like a series of pitter-patter punches from Nick Diaz. In this potential joint TV deal between ESPN and Fox Sports, it’s been reported that up to 15 events will take place on ESPN+, ESPN’s fledgling streaming service. Fox Sports will still get its share of events, and we all know the UFC will still be in the PPV business. That means it’s going to be expensive for fans. Let’s break that down.
- 12 PPVs at $60 per = $720
- 12 months of ESPN+ = $60
- A cable package that actually gets you Fox Sports 1 (rather than cutting your cords outright) which should cost roughly $20-30 per month when combined with a decent internet package = $360 per year
- 12 months of Fight Pass = $120
- Total cost per year, before taxes, to be a passionate UFC fan: $1260
Meanwhile, MLB offers a league-wide streaming service (that doesn’t allow you to watch blacked-out games or nationally televised games live) for $112.99 per season. In addition to the regular season, there are spring training games to add to the value.
But wait, you will be told to split the cost of a PPV with a group of friends by Dana White. But what if all of your friends have moved on from the UFC, which is an increasingly common story. Or what if your friends simply don’t like MMA? Or what if all your friends were eaten by a bear? And why do you need to crowd-fund your entertainment experiences?
Look at the WWE Network? For $120 per year, you get a vast library of historical events, every big “PPV” show, and a plethora of original content.
In order to get the full fan experience with punditry, insight, and all of the fights, you’ll have to visit the UFC’s YouTube page, ESPN+, Fox Sports 1, possibly Fight Pass, and maybe the “real ESPN.” Or you can just try to brave the wilds of aggregation. It’s not easy for veteran fans, it’s a high barrier of entry for new fans, and it leaves people wondering just where the next fights are going to be, week after week after week. The deal isn’t done, it’s just a report, but these delivery methods feel like a poor user experience.
We understand the UFC is a money-making business, and new owners WME-IMG need to recoup that $4 billion price tag after a few down years, but nickel and diming their loyal fans seems short-sighted, kind of like their never-ending flow of interim championships.
If they want to retain and grow viewership, they cannot divide it. It doesn’t work when playerbases are split up due to downloadable content in video games, and it won’t work here. It will make them money, but it won’t make the fans happy or satisfied. But happy, satisfied fans will make them a lot more money in the long run.