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ESPN reportedly picks up remainder of UFC deal, clearing the way for SmackDown on Fox

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In a report early this morning from Variety, ESPN will apparently add to their already announced package of UFC events, picking up the rest of the broadcast package for the mixed martial arts promotion. A few weeks ago, the partners announced 15 annual shows would stream on the Disney-owned broadcaster’s ESPN+ subscription-based streaming service. Now it appears they’ll add another 15 fight cards per year, with the total schedule of events airing on both ESPN+ and ESPN’s traditional cable networks.

This is basically the entire rights package currently held by Fox. Variety says ESPN will pay $300 million annually for UFC’s televised line-up; over the five year life of the contract it will be worth $1.5 billion.

None of this has been confirmed by UFC, ESPN or Fox, but if Variety’s sources are correct, this gives us a better picture of things for WWE and the combat sports landscape:

  • The obvious speculation is Fox decided to end its seven year relationship with UFC amid declining ratings for its fight cards, deciding instead to invest in WWE by spending $205 million per year on SmackDown instead of matching ESPN’s $150 million offer to keep the linear television portion of UFC’s slate.
  • While a $1.5 billion dollar deal is a big step up from the value of UFC’s last contract, it’s significantly less than what the company’s owners, Endeavor, were shooting for when they bought from Zuffa. It was reported UFC believed their rights package was worth $400 - $450 million a year (their Fox deal was worth $115 million annually).
  • Something pretty much nobody predicted looks to have happened... with SmackDown’s deal alone alleged to be worth more than $200 million per year, and NBCUniversal said to be tripling what they were paying to keep Raw, it looks like WWE’s television contracts will be significantly more lucrative than UFC’s.

Interesting times in the real and scripted fight games.