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UFC’s UK deal with Eleven collapses as rights head back to BT

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has triggered an exit clause in its contract with Eleven Sports in the UK and will return to BT Sport from 2019, SportBusiness Media understands.

Sports broadcaster Eleven’s UK arm is part-owned by the IMG agency and operates only as an online streaming service. IMG owns the UFC, but sells the UFC’s commercial rights on behalf of the promotion in what it describes as “an arms-length agreement”.

As part of its new media-rights agreement with the UFC, Eleven had to have a carriage deal agreed by the beginning of December with at least one of the UK’s main pay-television operators: Sky, BT and Virgin Media.

Negotiations with Sky and BT never formally began, while talks between Eleven and Virgin are reported to have collapsed. As a result, the UFC had to go elsewhere for coverage in the UK.

A new agreement with BT from 2019 is currently in the process of being completed, but multiple well-placed sources have described a deal as inevitable.

BT currently holds the rights in a two-and-a-half year deal, from mid-2016 to the end of 2018. Eleven’s now-defunct deal for rights to the UFC in the UK for three years, from 2019 to 2021, was agreed in September.

The collapse of the deal is likely to have a significant impact on Eleven, which The Telegraph has reported is on the brink of closure. It also materially affects the UFC, which will almost certainly earn less for its media rights in the UK.

Finally, it has derailed the plans of rival MMA promotions Bellator and Cage Warriors, which were hoping to capitalise on the UFC’s lack of linear television exposure.