The UFC and ESPN are expected to sit down at the negotiating table to discuss a new broadcast rights deal in the very near future.
That’s according to UFC CEO Dana White, who acknowledged plans for those talks ahead of the expiration for the current deal that runs through 2025. The UFC inked a lucrative seven-year deal with ESPN in 2018 that was reportedly worth more than $1.5 billion, which eventually included pay-per-view broadcasts.
Now, with the deal coming to a close, the UFC will first sit down with ESPN before potentially branching out to discuss broadcast rights with other suitors.
“Our deal is coming up,” White said of the UFC’s relationship with ESPN. “I believe that talks will begin with ESPN within the next three to four months.”
Negotiations will be handled by the UFC’s parent company at TKO Group Holdings led by CEO Ari Emanuel, who has played a huge part in almost every major TV deal for the MMA organization. Prior to Endeavor buying the UFC for just over $4 billion in 2016, the talent agency turned multi-faceted conglomerate represented the promotion as a client.
That included the deal to take the UFC to FOX and then eventually move to ESPN.
Live broadcast rights deals are still at a premium right now for networks like ESPN, especially with major streaming platforms such as Amazon and Apple TV getting involved in the bidding. One Wall Street analyst predicted that the UFC’s next TV deal could balloon up to more than $3 billion — more than double the most recent contract signed with ESPN.
UFC also has an advantage in that there’s no offseason in MMA like most sports, so it’s a consistent driver for both ratings and advertising dollars, which is something almost nobody else can offer. The dedicated fan base for the UFC has helped drive ESPN+ growth, with the Disney-owned streaming service now boasting more than 26 million subscribers.
Reports surfaced recently that the NFL has also engaged in talks with ESPN recently on a potential groundbreaking deal that could see the football league take an equity stake in the network. Disney CEO Bob Iger has stated numerous times that he plans to explore potential partners to take on a share of ESPN but still maintain an overall controlling interest.
Given Endeavor’s rapid expansion after spinning off the UFC and World Wrestling Entertainment into one merged company, it’s entirely possible a similar deal with ESPN could emerge. Then again, TKO president Mark Shapiro has hinted at the potential for a UFC TV package to get split up among several networks, which is something leagues like the NFL and NBA do as well.
Whatever the case, the UFC has a lot riding on the future with this next TV deal, which is expected to close sometime in 2024.