The dominoes are falling.
Just one day after the news broke of Fox jumping into the pro wrestling game with a five year deal worth over $1 billion, it was revealed that they'll be out of the MMA game. Instead, the previously reported 15-fight annual deal between ESPN+ and UFC will expand to a 30-fight annual deal that will see the UFC appear on linear networks and streaming services.
According to Variety, ESPN will pay UFC $1.5 billion over the five year deal, which works out to $300 million annually. There were reports last year that UFC rejected what they considered a "lowball" offer of $200 million from Fox, who they've been with since late 2010.
UFC was acquired by Endeavor for $4.4 billion in 2016, and ended up getting a smaller rights deal than they'd hoped after ratings and viewership has declined. This could be attributed to the absence of major stars like Conor McGregor, the departure of Ronda Rousey, and the questionable futures of Jon Jones and Georges St.-Pierre.
As a part of this new deal, UFC will see its programming air on their linear cable networks, in addition to their ESPN+ streaming service.
We should note that the article in question seems to specify there are 45 annual events as part of the deal, but Fightful.com has been told that number is 30. UFC will still be able to produce events for their Fight Pass service and pay-per-view. (This has since been corrected by Variety to reflect 30.)
There are still many questions as it pertains to how the deal will work out. ESPN recently hired Ariel Helwani, who has often publicly been at odds with the UFC President. Helwani will appear on a weekly show with Bellator MMA fighter Chael Sonnen. There are also the likes of Daniel Cormier, Tyron Woodley, Yves Edwards, Kenny Florian, Michael Bisping, Dominick Cruz and others who appear on UFC on Fox programming.
The move will also likely signal the impending end of the semi-regular UFC Tonight show, which appears on Fox Sports 1.
Following the announcement that the UFC was heading to ESPN, a statement was released by Fox Sports to MMA Junkie about the move, which states:
“FOX Sports has enjoyed an amazing partnership with the UFC over the last seven years. As FOX Sports was planning the launch of FS1, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta were the first partners to believe in the idea and vision of the new network. We look forward to finishing out 2018 with more exciting live events and wish the UFC continued success in the years to come.”