Is moving all PPVs to ESPN+ a good or bad move for UFC?
Cole Henry, Host – MMA Scope Podcast
I would assume that the UFC wouldn’t do something like this unless they thought it would lead to something positive. I know that the common thing to say is that they have to recoup the money from the purchase of the company, but this is still a business run by people who you would like to think have the best interest of the company in mind. Could it turn out to be a negative? Sure. But chances are when we look back at this in a few years we will have some people spouting about the positives, and others just as passionately arguing the negatives.
Sean Covington, Columnist – Covington’s Corner
This is the worst move possible for the UFC. Forcing people to get ESPN+ AND pay the around same price for a PPV is just dumb, ESPN’s coverage of MMA is terrible and always has been. ESPN doesn’t lose anything because they don’t care what happens to UFC after their 7-year contract is up. It seems like it wouldn’t be a big deal but ESPN+ had major issues when the UFC had its first event on the service! This is a sick joke and it’s not funny.
Frank Hyden, Columnist – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
This is terrible. If they made a list of all the possible moves they could make, this would be one of the worst. For one, continuing to embrace the pay-per-view model seems so outdated. For two, they then stick the PPVs behind a pay gate. In 2019. Why don’t they strike a deal with AOL and MySpace while they’re at it?
By making this move, the UFC is pushing even more people towards pirating their shows. Not that I condone piracy, of course, but you have to be realistic here. Now, you could argue that people are going to pirate anyway no matter what they do but that’s flawed thinking. People are a lot more likely to either pirate or skip a show for $60 than they would be if they created a UFC channel with all their PPV shows and charged $10 a month like WWE or DAZN.
With PPV buyrates shrinking, now is not the time to be doubling down on that model. They don’t have the star power to do such a thing. This move is born of either tremendous hubris or forehead-smacking stupidity. Either way, it’s not a good look and this isn’t going to end well.
Michael Hiscoe, MMATorch Managing Editor
This might be a good financial deal for UFC. We don’t really know what ESPN is paying in order to get exclusivity. It’s possible that they are paying nothing and UFC will just get a bigger cut of the PPV revenue, but UFC was already getting nearly all of the revenue from digital purchases on UFC.tv, so they could have just dumped satellite and cable and directed people there. I’m guessing that ESPN is paying an annual sum to get PPV exclusivity and UFC feels it’s enough to offset the massive losses from not being on traditional PPV, at least in the long run.
For fans, this isn’t a great move and it’s a very risky move by UFC. One take I’ve seen since the announcement is that UFC fans are younger and more technologically savvy, and thus will adapt to the change more easily. I don’t know how true this is. UFC’s audience has aged since the Spike years, and UFC may be overestimating their willingness to move to a streaming platform for pay-per-view.
What’s the value proposition for fans here? You can save five bucks a month on pay-per-view? OK. But ESPN+ just happens to cost five bucks a month, so if you want to follow UFC even semi-closely, kiss that fiver goodbye.
When WWE moved from pay-per-view to the streaming WWE Network, they took a huge gamble by ditching traditional PPV. But fans got huge savings and a new way to engage with and enjoy WWE’s product. WWE sacrificed short term pay-per-view revenue in exchange for long term stability and full ownership of the distribution of their product. UFC is making a similar gamble but isn’t willing to pass on any of the savings over to fans.
One thing I do like about this is that it may give UFC some flexibility to not feel obligated to offer a full price pay-per-view event every single month. Instead of scrambling to move shows, book unnecessary interim title fights, or suffering the embarrassment of cancelling shows, UFC can schedule pay-per-views for when they truly have a worthy card and main event. For this, fans may be more willing to buy the shows on ESPN+. Contracts outside of the U.S. may prevent this in the immediate future though.
It’s a bad move at first look, and will certainly be something to watch moving forward.