ESPN, FOX Reportedly Making Joint Bid to Split UFC Television Rights

ESPN and FOX are reportedly teaming up to make a joint bid to obtain the UFC's television rights starting in 2019

ESPN and FOX are reportedly teaming up to make an offer to obtain the UFC’s television rights with fight cards being split between the two networks.

According to a new report from Variety, ESPN and FOX have teamed together with plans to split the UFC television package between their two outlets in a deal that could be worth a combined $320 to $380 million per year.

ESPN would reportedly be willing to fork over between $120 to $180 million per year for part of the UFC’s television rights with plans to put as many as 15 events per year on their new streaming service ESPN+ that just launched last week.

FOX would then offer somewhere around $200 million per year — an increase of approximately $80 million over the $120 million the network is currently paying — with the network still receiving the bulk of the UFC television rights, although the total number of events airing on FOX or FOX Sports 1 would decrease overall.

The deal would signify a huge addition to the new ESPN+ streaming service, which launched at a price point of $4.99 per month with the current slate of programming including soccer games from the MLS, baseball games and NHL hockey.

It appears the UFC became a bigger priority to ESPN after launching their streaming service while new president James Pitaro looks to increase viewers after the network had been hemorrhaging subscribers over the past few years.

Up until now, sources say that ESPN wasn’t interested in obtaining the full television rights for the UFC due to the cost as the new owners at Endeavor, led by co-CEO Ari Emanuel, were seeking around $400 million per year after purchasing the organization for more than $4 billion in 2016.

It appears teaming up with FOX Sports to split the package along with the need for premium content on the ESPN+ app got the company back on board.

As for FOX, the network would maintain its current relationship with the UFC that started back in 2011 when they signed a seven year deal with the mixed martial arts organization.

The UFC provides a huge chunk of programming for FOX Sports 1 and losing the promotion would be a huge blow to the network. Of course rumors have persisted that FOX is also interested in obtaining the WWE television rights, which expire in September under their current deal with USA Network via Comcast/NBC.

Re-upping with the UFC doesn’t necessarily mean FOX isn’t interested in WWE but instead could signal that the network is looking to land both rather than just one. FOX has retooled following a huge sale to Disney earlier this year that saw the majority of the network’s assets sold for $52 billion. The sale included FOX’s in house television studio so the network was shifting priorities for the remainder of the company.

The new FOX — consisting of the FOX television network, FOX Sports 1 and 2 as well as FOX News — wants at least 80-percent of programming to come from live events (either sports or reality television programming).

Keeping the UFC would be meaningful for FOX and potentially adding the WWE would give them another huge boost in the live sports marketplace.

The UFC has been hunting for a new TV rights deal since an exclusive negotiating period with FOX expired last year. In recent months, the UFC has explored several possible options for the television rights deal including online streaming through a service such as Amazon or Facebook and there have even been rumors that Endeavor considered just keeping the television rights and creating their own streaming service.

Teaming up with ESPN and FOX would seem like a homerun for the UFC but as of now it’s just an offer on the table and no deal has been struck at this time.

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Damon Martin is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist who has been covering the industry since 2003 with bylines on FOX Sports, CNN, Bleacher Report and numerous other outlets.
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