Monday, December 5, 2022

UFC Open To New Streaming Bidders Before Disney Renewal

The president of Endeavor, the holding company that owns the UFC, has said that new bidders for the MMA leader’s streaming rights will be heard before a Disney renewal.

At the start of 2019, a deal between the UFC and Disney worth a reported $1.5 billion began. The agreement, set for five years, saw the promotion’s programming switch from FOX, which had been its home since 2011, to ESPN.

With the deal set to expire in just north of a year, Endeavor president Mark Shapiro assessed his company’s options and the likelihood of a renewal with Disney during a conference hosted by Wall Street firm RBC Capital Markets.

Shapiro started by speaking of the positive relationship they have with Disney, explaining the “love” that the mass media and entertainment company has for what the UFC product has done for ESPN.

“They love what it’s done for ESPN and ESPN2,” Shapiro said. “They love that it’s the anchor tenant of ESPN+.”

But despite a renewal appearing likely following a so-far successful stint with Disney, things certainly aren’t a done deal just yet.

Endeavor President Doesn’t Close The Door On A New Home For UFC

Shapiro went on to note that while a renewed deal with Disney is certainly on the table, Endeavor won’t be closing the door on other prominent streaming sites.

Instead, the company’s president noted entities like Amazon and Apple as possible broadcast destinations for the UFC’s events down the line, should they continue to grow.

“We’re patient,” Shapiro said. “The business is going strong, margins are really strong. We see significant upside of all the ancillary businesses. We’d like to give a little more time for the Amazons and the Apples of the world to keep growing.

“We’re really open-minded,” Shapiro added. “We’re not going to just take the quick increase. We’re going to maximize the real potential here.”

Amazon has been consistently expanding its venture into sports broadcast. In the US, the streaming giant airs action from the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer. In the UK, meanwhile, Amazon has rights to 20 English Premier League matches, as well as the ATP World Tour and US Open.

Shapiro also addressed the growing sporting interest of Netflix, a streaming service with 222 million subscribers worldwide. But while the Endeavor chief noted the platform’s Formula One series, which follows the sport behind the scenes throughout each year’s season, he questioned whether an association between the Netflix name and live sport exists yet.

“(Endeavor is) in conversations with them about where they can test out sports,” Shapiro stated. “We’re not going to be a guinea pig. Time serves us well to kind of wait it out. They’re tiptoeing. They’re dancing.

“I would question, though, are they the right marketing partner? People don’t go to Netflix for sports,” Shapiro continued. “They go there for (F1 unscripted series) Drive to Survive. But they don’t go for live events just yet.”

UFC & ONE Under The Same Roof?

Currently, the UFC shares a broadcast partner with the Professional Fighters League. The PFL, which operates a unique season and playoff format, signed a multi-year deal with ESPN this past January ahead of the 2022 season.

Should Endeavor listen to other bids and favor a switch to Amazon down the line, it also won’t be alone under that streaming platform’s banner.

In April this year, ONE Championship announced a multi-year agreement with Prime Video. With the deal, Asia’s premier mixed martial arts promotion will air 12 live events annually on the streaming platform for North American audiences.

Having already held three events on Amazon Prime Video since August, ONE will stage two more in the coming weeks, starting with ONE on Prime Video 4 this coming Friday, headlined by a champion vs. champion showdown between lightweight king Christian Lee and welterweight titleholder Kiamrian Abbasov.

Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel recently noted that a possible deal with Amazon fell through prior to an agreement being agreed with Disney. While he suggested that they ultimately landed on the right platform, Shapiro’s remarks this week would suggest a return to the negotiating table isn’t beyond the realms of possibilities.

Which streaming platform would you like to see the UFC broadcast on?

All quotes h/t Deadline.