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BT confirms renewal of UFC rights in the UK after Eleven deal annulment

UK pay-television broadcaster BT Sport has confirmed it will continue to hold exclusive rights to the Ultimate Fighting Championship from 2019, after SportBusiness Media broke the story on Wednesday.

BT has wrestled back the rights after the UFC cancelled its deal with Eleven Sports, which operates solely as a streaming service in the UK.

BT’s new deal will be a multi-year deal, though its exact length has not yet been confirmed. Eleven’s original deal was set to run for three years, from 2019 to 2021.

Eleven’s deal was cancelled due to the activation of a ‘carriage clause’ in its contract. Eleven had to have at least one carriage deal with a major UK pay-television operator – Sky, BT or Virgin Media – by the beginning of December. As this was not the case, the UFC cancelled the deal and immediately began discussions with BT.

BT has shown the UFC since August 2013. Its initial deal ran for three years, from August 2013 to August 2016. Its current deal is a two-and-a-half year deal, from August 2016 to the end of 2018.

BT’s new deal was agreed with the IMG agency, which holds a majority stake in the UFC and a minority stake in Eleven’s UK operation. This caused concern at Sky and BT, and executives within the UK broadcast industry worried that IMG’s backing of Eleven could cause a conflict of interest when selling rights.

At the time, one senior industry source, who wished not to be named, told SportBusiness Media: “It’s a very unusual situation and it was a very unusual tender. I don’t think Sky or BT had a fair chance of getting the rights, but that’s the nature of the circumstances.”

Another said: “Are they (IMG) an intermediary? An agent? A broadcaster? A shareholder in a broadcaster? They risk buyers saying: ‘what is the point of us giving you a price if you’re just going to broadcast it yourself?’.”

Regarding the UFC, this problem has now been solved.

Eleven continues to hold rights in the UK to Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s LaLiga. It is understood that Eleven is progressing well with negotiations to reduce the amount it pays for these rights.