Last week, the UFC’s parent company Endeavor (formerly known as WME-IMG) announced that it had reached an agreement to purchase stream technology company NeuLion for $250 million U.S. dollars. While most MMA fans likely haven’t heard of NeuLion before, they will soon. With the UFC’s seven-year deal with FOX set to expire at year’s end, Endeavor’s acquisition of NeuLion may change the way you watch MMA fights.
First, a little background on the company. NeuLion has been powering video streaming for several other sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, EuroLeague, and even the UFC as well. NeuLion was the video streaming giant behind the UFC’s production of both UFC 200 — which was the first UFC event streamed in 4K — as well as UFC 205. It also streamed the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor boxing superfight last summer. Though the NHL ditched NeuLion’s streaming services and went with BAM Tech instead (that’s MLB Advanced Media’s streaming service), the company has still done really well and the fact Endeavor went out and spent $250 million to buy it out speaks volumes to the potential that Endeavor sees with NeuLion’s streaming services.
Getting back to how this could affect UFC viewers, I’ve already mentioned that the FOX deal is running up soon, and it’s possible the UFC does not renew its deal with FOX, which already has a ton of content from other sports taking up its air space, as well as the incoming PBA bowling league that starts next year. Considering the high price Endeavor has been rumored to put on its UFC television rights, there’s no doubt it will be shopping around for the best price, and other television networks like ESPN and NBC will surely throw their hats in the mix to acquire the UFC’s television rights.
But if Endeavor is smart — and the brains behind the company clearly are — then they will be looking to make the UFC a mostly-digital play for fans. It’s clear that the way viewers watch the UFC’s product now is different than it was a few years ago, and much different than it was a decade ago. Let’s be honest here, there are a lot of cord cutters out there who are UFC fans and who don’t even have television anymore. But they want the fights on their computers by streaming them. UFC Fight Pass has been solid for the company, but the problem that a lot of subscribers have is the lack of live fight cards. When the UFC started Fight Pass, fans assumed there were going to be a ton of UFC cards on the streaming service. But it’s 2018 and there’s only a few Fight Pass-exclusive cards a year. With this NeuLion venture, perhaps Endeavor is hoping to have even more live UFC events streamed once the FOX deal is over, which would in turn lead to more subscribers of Fight Pass. We’ve seen how successful WWE has been with WWE Network, and we know the UFC has played copycat to the WWE in the past. Considering how different the way people consume sports is these days, it makes sense for the UFC to keep up with the times and start going direct to consumer with its product.
I’m sure Endeavor will sign a big-money deal with one of these television companies to show live fights, but I don’t think there will be as many UFC fights on TV on the next deal as there was on the FOX deal. With NeuLion part of Endeavor’s empire, it only makes sense to increase the content on Fight Pass by offering more exclusive live-streamed events than the UFC currently offers to its fans. The way people have consumed their content has changed, and most people are watching sports over internet streams now. So I’m expecting live steams of the UFC to be a big part of its model for delivering live events going forward. And with dwindling pay-per-view sales, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the UFC eventually scrap that model and go the WWE’s route there as well, giving fans the ability to watch PPVs on live streams for a cheaper price via UFC Fight Pass. The future of the UFC is about to change soon, and the way we watch fights is going to be a lot different going forward.