With the current deal due to expire on the 31st July, the UFC has finally announced their TV partner in the UK for the next three years. And that is BT Sport who have been in partnership with the promotion since 2013.
The new deal will run until the end of 2018 which interestingly reflects the expiry of the promotions US TV deal with Fox.
So first up here is the official statement from the UFC in regards to the new deal with BT Sport;
UFC® today announced a renewal of the successful existing broadcast partnership with BT Sport, which will see the UK sports channel broadcast over 150 hours of live UFC events a year.
The renewed partnership sees BT Sport retain the exclusive live rights within the UK and Republic of Ireland, while enhancing their content by offering every UFC event across the globe, including all US numbered pay-per-view events and all EMEA events live.
The announcement comes ahead of the highly anticipated rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz at UFC 202: Diaz vs McGregor 2 in Las Vegas. McGregor will be set on revenge after suffering his first loss in the UFC in March 2016 at the hands of Diaz, who stepped in to take the fight on just 2 weeks notice. All the action from UFC 202: Diaz vs. McGregor 2 will be broadcast live on BT Sport.
During the successful partnership between BT Sport and UFC, which begin in 2013, MMA has seen a marked increase in popularity in the UK and the Republic of Ireland as UFC content and events became widely accessible through BT Sport. The sport cemented its place as one of the fastest growing and most entertaining sports in the world.
James Elliott, General Manager and Vice President UFC EMEA, said: “There is no doubt that our initial partnership with BT Sport placed UFC and the sport of MMA in front of an engaged sports audience, and helped to grow the sport in the UK & Ireland. This renewal is a signal from both organisations that there is clearly more to come and that BT Sport provides the perfect platform on which to continue to grow the sport of MMA and UFC. The potential for growth for both organisations is huge and we are delighted to be continuing our partnership and to building something special.”
Simon Green, Head of BT Sport said “UFC were one of the first partners that we announced back in 2013 when we launched BT Sport. Since then we have both come a long way and I’m very happy to announce today that we will continue to grow the sport with even more exclusive UFC action live on BT Sport.”
Now more importantly what does this actually mean for the fans of the UFC and customers of BT, both good and not so good? What changes?
Well the good news is that the new deal will include every UFC event on the BT platform which is a change to the previous deal. The previous deal did not include all events as there was some European events which were shown on various other channels including Pick TV for some of the European shows. So the new deal will serve as a one stop shop for all shows which is definitely a plus.
The new deal will also see UFC Fight Pass extend its coverage to cover all prelim fights and not just the first few fights of the cards. Now in essence this is another reason for all fight fans to subscribe to the UFC Fight Pass subscription to make sure they can watch all fights. In previous instances and especially on European cards, BT are not able to broadcast the fights prior to the 8pm watershed and with European shows starting at around 5pm they have had to host the fights through other avenues (inc facebook) which made it difficult for all customers to access the content. So in summary the new deal also pushes the need for everyone to sign up to the UFC Fight Pass subscription at the cost of $10 per month to ensure they can access every fight going forward.
BT Sport have clearly invested a significant financial sum to win this new deal ahead of Sky and you have to envisage that they are going to do everything they can to make a success of it. They have the benefit of reflecting on what has gone well/not so well in the last three years and taking action on that. The new deal is not as much of a disrupter for fans of the UFC in the UK as its pretty much business as usual for them in terms of what they pay/what equipment they use to access the BT Sport platform, whereas a move away from BT would have been a bigger disrupter in that respect but in theory could have opened up a few other opportunities in terms of marketing and promoting the sport.
One point definitely worth mentioning is that BT Sports have the rights to the 5:30pm football matches on a Saturday which will serve them with the perfect opportunity to promote any shows that take place on a Saturday night/Sunday morning to their key target demographic. I think this is really something which they need to push and they haven’t been doing enough of in the last three years. One thing I was really looking forward to had Sky won the deal was the constant coverage of the UFC on the Sky Sports news channel which would have really helped to hype fights and build up stars and so BT Sports need to find an alternative to this and I think that promoting fights during those late Saturday football games is a great place to start.
Well thats my initial thoughts having had a few hours to digest the announcement and reflect on what I think of the new deal. From a completely selfish perspective I am happy that the deal has remained with BT Sports as it means no changes for myself to access the content, but I think that BT have a lot to deliver across the coming months to really gain the support of the fans this side of the pond.