UFC open to digital-led approach for next rights deal, says White

Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White has admitted that the mixed martial arts promotion’s next rights deal could focus more on an agreement with a digital platform rather than a television broadcaster.

The UFC has taken its US broadcast rights to the open market after an exclusive negotiating period expired with current partner, pay-television broadcaster Fox Sports.

The promotion is currently engaged in a seven-year deal with Fox which runs from 2012 to 2018, but the window for extending this contract has now passed, according to multiple reports earlier this month.

Speaking on a Wall Street Journal podcast, White (pictured) admitted that the UFC could arrive at a situation by which it focuses more on digital streaming. He said: “With technology we’re getting to the point that I always dreamed about. I always used to say, we’ll take this thing all around the world, build a fan base and talent in every country around the world, and then we’ll get to a point in time where everyone can watch it at the same time, on the same platform.

“We’re getting to that day. When I grew up, we had channel three, channel five, channel eight and channel 13, and then the channel Sesame Street was on. Those were all the channels that we had, right? Now what’s crazy about television these days – I have DirectTV and I have cable, so I have 2,000 channels right? And nothing’s on. Nothing’s on. I think we have the type of content that people will watch.”

Showtime Sports executive vice-president and general manager, Stephen Espinoza, last month said the pay-television broadcaster is interested in acquiring US rights to the UFC once the Fox deal expires.

Espinoza said Showtime, a major broadcaster of combat sports, would be interested in being part of an arrangement whereby multiple networks hold rights. The UFC currently operates its own OTT service, Fight Pass, and White added: “My kids don’t watch television. They’re 24/7 on their phone, and if they do want to watch TV, they go straight to Netflix.

“I think you really see it (the change) when you look at ESPN. Look how powerful ESPN was five years ago. What they were getting for subs; their subs are dropping, and they’re scrambling right now trying to figure it out. There’s no doubt that the internet and over-the-top content is where it’s all going. It’ll be interesting to see when the smoke clears who’s still around and who’s not.”