Media Rights, Politics & Governance, Video, Martial Arts, North America, Global

The UFC in 2019: Media strategy

The UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein lifts the lid on the MMA giant's content plans.

by Eoin Connolly
The UFC in 2019: Media strategy

The UFC media distribution strategy, according to Lawrence Epstein, is “different market to market”. But the central goals that the organisation is trying to accomplish can be identified by examining its US activities in the wake of the new five-year deal it will begin with ESPN in 2019.

“Let’s break that down,” Epstein says. “First of all, pay-per-view. We’re going to continue to sell pay-per-view through our own platform, UFC.tv, in addition to a host of digital distributors including Xbox, PlayStation, Roku, Amazon, the list goes on. We will continue to distribute through traditional cable and satellite.”

ESPN, unlike previous TV partner Fox, also has the technology to sell UFC pay-per-views as a non-exclusive distributor. 

“Number two,” continues Epstein, “broad reach. ESPN is a broad-reach platform here in the US for sports content, and having that sort of megaphone to expose people to the product, to breed new fans, is key.

“But it doesn’t end with the flagship networks. All of the editorial and earned media that will be generated through Sports Center, through the app ecosystem, through the magazine, through their social platforms – they’re just getting a whole host of resources that are going to expose the UFC brand and our athletes to a whole new audience.

“Third is OTT, and there’s a couple of plays there. One is through the ESPN+ OTT platform. We’re going to have 20 exclusive fights on that platform. And the second is going to continue to be our OTT platform, which is UFC Fight Pass. UFC Fight Pass is going to continue to have UFC content, but I think you’re going to see a more robust offering of third-party MMA, boxing, jiu-jitsu, karate, and other martial arts content, in addition to the entire UFC library.”

Elsewhere, Epstein adds, a counterpoint can be found in China, where the UFC has “about 15 different regional satellite deals that have been knitted together to give us virtually complete coverage over the entire country, with a magazine show that gives us broad distribution” and offers a more “snackable suite of content”. Together with that, “an OTT play” with PPTV creates another route to the audience and places the UFC alongside “premium sports content” like soccer’s Premier League and Bundesliga. 

“The strategies differ from country to country,” Epstein says. “Certain countries have robust pay-per-view business, like Australia and New Zealand, and others don’t. In the UK, we’ve recently entered into a deal with Eleven Sports to distribute a big chunk of our content, but you’re also going to see pay-per-view opportunities with the traditional pay-per-view distributors in the market.

“It’s a little bit early days right now; we haven’t penned all the deals but we’re very optimistic that we’ll have a pay-per-view play in the UK in 2019 and beyond.”


Read more in SportsPro's UFC in 2019 series with the main feature on Endeavor's plans for the promotion, here, and tackling the McGregor factor, here.

This is an edited version of a feature that appears in Issue 103 of SportsPro magazine. To subscribe, click here.