(This post first appeared on MMAFrenzy.)
Recently the MMA world was buzzed with the news the UFC’s signed a broadcasting deal with ESPN worth $1.5 billion dollars. While it’s pretty hard to argue the deal isn’t a financial win for the promotion, if you’re a backer of the MMA’s oversaturated theory, the agreement isn’t exactly a home run.
Last week it was reported that ESPN will become the UFC’s primary broadcast partner next year, via a five year deal worth $300 million annually. Since the UFC has had more than a few hits-and-misses, in terms of ratings in recent months, the terms of the deal turned heads throughout the game. After all, the agreement almost triples what the UFC was pulling in annually via its FOX broadcast deal, which will conclude at the end of this year.
So how many cards will the UFC be promoting each year? Under the new agreement? It looks like 42. Recently MMA Junkie asked Dana White if the agreement calls for 42 events annually, and the UFC President said this:
“That’s exactly right: 42 shows,” White said. “I have the ability to make some original content for those guys too, and it’s going to be awesome. ESPN wouldn’t cover us; now we’re on ESPN. Anybody who doesn’t think this is a win, just shut up. Stop covering the sport if you think this isn’t a win.”
There you have it. And how does that breakdown? According to the aforementioned report, the UFC’s annual calendar will feature 10 televised cards, 20 events via the ESPN+ streaming app, and 12 pay-per-view cards. 2017, in comparison, featured 39 UFC events.
Now, obviously White is pretty jacked with the new deal, hence, if you even question whether it’s a good thing, you apparently should stop covering the sport. But, the confirmation we’re going to be looking at 42 cards per year moving forward, likely isn’t going to silence those who float the oversaturated argument.
After all, a pillar of the theory is that a lot of UFC Fight Night cards have struggled to generate big ratings in recent history. Further, it’s believed the promotion’s pay-per-view numbers have been sliding since 2016. A reason for that, according to the oversaturated theory, is that there’s just too many events these days for casual fans to follow and invest in. In addition, the argument posits with that many events, there just isn’t enough top tier, top drawing fighters to cover all the main events and co-headliners. This is why before the terms of the new were confirmed, some observers had been hoping the UFC would reduce how many events it was holding, to in turn, bolster the line-up of each card.
So, it will be interesting to see how this plays out, over the coming years, and what this means for Bellator and other competitors. Standing out in a UFC dominated market like this isn’t going to be easy, and maybe that’s by design?