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UFC, ESPN announce landmark multiyear deal for exclusive content

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

The UFC reached a landmark deal Monday with ESPN, agreeing to stream up to 15 fight cards a year on the network’s new ESPN+ subscription service. The deal will take effect January 2019.

In addition to the fight cards, which will be tagged “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night,” the deal will include new seasons of “Dana White’s Contender Series,” beginning in June 2019; an original all-access series; pre- and post-fight shows; non-exclusive access to the UFC’s fight library and events such as news conferences and weigh-ins.

According to a UFC news release, the promotion has a fan base of more than 280 million people around the world. It says 40 percent of them are millennials, with a median age of 40.

That was attractive to Jimmy Pitaro, a former Yahoo Sports executive who is now president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks.

“UFC is a premier global sports property with legions of incredibly avid fans,” Pitaro said. “We are excited to be able to bring their world-class events and content to ESPN+ and the ESPN networks. This agreement shows the commitment we have to delivering fans the very best across our entire platform.”

ESPN+ previously announced a deal in the combat sports space with Top Rank boxing. In addition, it offers live MLB, NHL and MLS games, grand slam tennis events, PGA Tour golf and college sports. It has a charge of $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year.

The ESPN+ deal will not replace the UFC FightPass streaming service, nor will it eliminate pay-per-view events. The UFC is still negotiating with potential television partners for when its Fox deal ends at the end of this year. Fox is expected to retain some of the rights.

UFC president Dana White said he feels the deal with ESPN is a step forward for his company.

“I couldn’t be more excited to partner with The Walt Disney Company and ESPN on an agreement that will continue to grow our sport,” White said. “UFC has always done deals with the right partners at the right time and this one is no exception. We will now have the ability to deliver fights to our young fan base wherever they are and whenever they want it. This deal is a home run for ESPN and UFC.”

A general view of the Octagon prior to the UFC Fight Night event at Amway Center on February 24, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Getty Images)

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