Comment: UK/Ireland TV Deal: UFC/Providers need to be careful how they sell their product to fans.

Many fans are left pondering what a new TV deal will cost after BT pulled out of attaining rights for the UFC.

Having brokered a lucrative TV deal in North America, the UFC finds itself on one of the most prominent sports networks in the region in ESPN.

However, further afield European fans, particularly those in the UK and Ireland are faced with uncertainty with regards to a new TV deal after BT Sport pulled out of the race to obtain the rights to show MMA events on a regular basis.

The company had been home to the UFC in Ireland and the UK for the past five years.

Fans were able to watch televised prelim action and main cards for ‘Fight Night’ and numbered events that would usually be under a PPV in North America under one monthly subscription.

However, what many seem to forget about is that the latest deal hampered those without BT Sport and having previously been able to watch a card in its entirety on the UFC’s streaming service, ‘Fight Pass’, main cards were then blacked out in the European region meaning that fans were forced to buy a subscription to the channel.

What is the worth in UFC Fight Pass if you’re essentially paying the guts of E60 per year to watch two exclusive fights per card in most cases.

It’s not that BT were bad for the sport. They were simply trying to drive up subscriptions and for the most part people were content to pay for a subscription to watch events and get a handful of football and Champions League games to go along with it.

The issue now is that we are in a state of flux with this new TV deal.

Eleven Sports are by all accounts the favourites to obtain the rights to show fights and the channel is due to launch via a streaming platform initially and will then make its way to satellite in time for the UFC deal come December.

At least, that’s the aim. I can’t speak for any of you but the idea of watching a big event on a tablet screen or mobile phone doesn’t exactly fill me with excitement.

What is more worrying is the lack of details regarding price. The channel is set to launch on August 9th in the UK and Ireland and it is unclear as to whether this will be a contractual subscription or whether you can cancel at any given time and pick it back up at a later date.

Perhaps even more concerning is that the channel are likely to sub contract out the bigger PPV events to Sky and BT and put them behind a paywall.

For cards that contain Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Darren Till, this might be a clever way to go but it’s unfair for fans to shell out an extra 20 quid on a card that starts at 3am and finishes at 6:30am.

In a market like North America, this is a tried and tested model and is in a time zone that is likely to entice more viewers.

The model has worked on Sky Box Office with big boxing events but again, these shows are finishing at around 10pm local time.

There may be a significant bounce in buys for a McGregor fight but over time, it’s not a viable model on this side of the world.

The sport is still in its infancy in many ways in Europe and is constantly striving to be accepted as a mainstream sport alongside boxing but it simply isn’t there yet and pricing fans out of the market will only harm the sport and do it damage.

Leasing out PPV cards is something that people won’t pay for. Whatever about a new TV station, people are likely to subscribe to the channel providing it’s a similar price to BT Sport’s offering.

At the end of the day, people are creatures of habit. Paying for a product on top of another subscription and add to that Fight Pass if you own it, it could get out of hand very quickly.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, if you look online the backlash towards BT Sport has been overwhelmingly negative and if Eleven Sports want to get fans on side before December, here’s what I propose:

–  Announce a competitive pricing structure that doesn’t lock in fans to a 12 month contract.

– Don’t restrict UFC Fight Pass. Obviously this depends on what the UFC decide to do with Fight Pass but I would expect that they will slash the price of the service and should allow main cards to be viewed on the service.

– Don’t expect fans to pay for every single PPV. It just don’t won’t happen. Too many cards have pull outs and the quality of pay per views of late have been awful.

Paying for 2 or 3 PPV’s and allowing Fight Pass to go back to what it once was is an extremely viable option and could keep the cost down for fight fans who opt in and out of the subscription model I proposed above.

This is all speculative of course but these new TV companies need to be mindful and knowledgeable of the sport and it’s fanbase in the UK and Ireland.

It’s important they get this right and an announcement of pricing and future plans would go a long way to halt the frenzy that is appearing online right now.


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