“I expected there to be more people on Fight Pass when it was free than we went live, but it was the complete opposite,” White said following Friday’s UFC Fight Night 37 weigh-ins at London’s O2 Arena. “There’s way more people subscribed now than we were actually free, so it’s pretty interesting.”
UFC Fight Pass launched in December as the promotion’s online home for exclusive live streaming fights, unique special content, original programming and the entirety of the Zuffa video vault. The company offered a free trial through the end of February, but on March 1 switched over to a subscription model, running $9.99 per month.
The digital network was initially available in just a few select countries but was recently expanded across the globe and now is in 178 different countries and territories worldwide.
But some pundits have wondered aloud why the UFC would choose to feature a fight such as this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 37 headliner between Alexander Gustafsson and Jimi Manuwa on the digital network. After all, Gustafsson is expected to challenge for a title should he prove victorious, so why would the promotion want to hide him behind a paywall?
White said that notion is simply incorrect.
“The fight is being distributed (on television) to 350 million possible homes throughout the world,” White said. “The fight is available in Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the Philippines, Australia, Mongolia, India, New Zealand, the U.A.E. – Abu Dhabi and all of those countries down there. In the U.K., the entire card will be on BT Sport. The entire card, and the main event, for the first time ever here, will be on Channel 5 – open TV to everybody – the main event will be. We’re in Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Croatia and Israel. All of those countries, on television – 350 million homes.”
White admitted his company may have dropped the ball in disseminating the proper message at launch, but he insists the goal is simply to provide as many fights as possible to countries around the world, many of which don’t get to enjoy the frequency of fight cards held in countries like the U.S. or even Brazil. And when the company elected to add so many international fight cards to its schedule, the promotion’s television partner at FOX simply couldn’t handle the load.
“So the reason that this happened was we added 10 more [events],” White said. “We went to FOX and tried to see if FOX would pick up these 10 more fights, and they didn’t, so that’s why we put these on Fight Pass. … [FOX executives] create their budgets at the beginning of the year, and it wasn’t in their budget to pick up these fights. Not to say that they don’t pick them up later or whatever could happen with the deal, but that’s what happened.
“So it’s either nobody gets to see them, or you put them on Fight Pass. I hope that clears up some of the questions about Fight Pass. Anybody else in the rest of the countries I didn’t call, they get it on Fight Pass, too, which of course all these people in other countries are pumped to pay for it on Fight Pass, whereas the Americans who are used to getting these fights for free, some of them are a little twisted.”
Of course, there is still the lingering question as to when the entire archive, as promised, will be on UFC Fight Pass. The promotion seems to be adding content almost daily, but the entire Zuffa library isn’t online just yet. White said he’s aware of the issue and that he has employees working around the clock to get things up to speed as quickly as possible.
“You know how much time it takes to get all this stuff?” White asked. “Plus, some of this old footage, we have to take things out. There’s some things that we can’t leave in there: old sponsors that were on there and things that you can’t do. We can’t do it. So some of that stuff needs to be stripped out, and we’re working on it.
“The thing about Fight Pass is it’s only going to get better and better and better. More and more content is going to be loaded up on there.”
So for now, the UFC remains bullish on its newest venture, even as some insist it’s destined for failure. White believes some of the doubts may have boiled down to how his promotion initially presented the program. But the UFC boss also believes as the company’s foreign expansion continues – see announced 2014 visits to Brazil, Abu Dhabi, Canada, Germany, Ireland, China, Japan, Sweden and Turkey, for instance – localization of the product is key, and Fight Pass is a big reason that’s now possible, even if it may seem to be an issue when addressing from afar.
“I don’t know if we really explained how many other countries this would be in on some form of television,” White said. “It’s part of the growth of the sport. We added 10 more fights.
“We’re moving into these countries. … What we’re doing is we’re localizing the sport here in these different countries. Here in England, you’re never going to become a mainstream sport if you’re on at 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock in the morning. So now we’re here, in your country, on your free TV in primetime, the way that we’ve done it in the U.S.
“Why hasn’t it worked over here? Because we haven’t done it the right way. Now we’re doing it the right way.”