UFC Exploring Options for Next Streaming Deal; Netflix Not Expected to Be in Mix
The UFC signed its most recent distribution deal with Disney in 2019, but the company may be ready to re-up, according to a report from Deadline. Mark Shapiro, the president of UFC’s parent company Endeavor, has indicated he’s “open to a renewal conversation sooner rather than later.”
UFC is one of the top events streamed on Disney’s dedicated sports platform ESPN+ and also sees coverage on Disney’s cable and broadcast networks as well. If Shapiro is to be believed regarding Disney’s feelings about UFC, they’ll be eager to return to the negotiating table as well.
“They love the business,” Shapiro said of Disney. “They love what it’s done for ESPN and ESPN2. They love that it’s the anchor tenant of ESPN+.”
The deal signed between Disney and Endeavor runs through the end of 2024, so there is time for more interested parties to come to the table. However, Shapiro’s comments also indicate that he is welcoming more potential partners to bid on the UFC’s rights.
“We’re patient,” Shapiro said. “The business is going strong, margins are really strong. We see significant upside of all the ancillary businesses. We’d like to give a little more time for the Amazons and the Apples of the world to keep growing.”
Along with those streaming and tech giants, the exec also name-dropped Roku, Pluto and Peacock.
“We’re really open-minded,” Shapiro said. “We’re not going to just take the quick increase. We’re going to maximize the real potential here.”
Mentioning other potential services that UFC would be open to working with could lead to several implications. First and foremost, it could be a negotiating tactic that Shapiro is using in order to milk the most money possible out of Disney for the UFC rights.
Alternatively, it could mean that in 2025, the UFC could migrate to Prime Video or Apple TV+. Both services have experience streaming live sports, as Prime Video is home to “Thursday Night Football,” and Apple TV+ will own the streaming rights to Major League Soccer over the next ten years, as well as rights to select MLB games.
However, one place UFC fans shouldn’t expect the UFC to wind up is Netflix. Shapiro said Endeavor had held discussions with Netflix regarding testing certain sports, but also stated plainly, “We’re not going to be a guinea pig.”
“I would question, are they the right marketing partner? People don’t go to Netflix for sports,” he continued. “They go there for [F1 unscripted series] Drive to Survive. But they don’t go for live events just yet.”
It makes sense that the UFC would be hesitant to team up with Netflix. The streaming platform has never hosted a live sports event before, and would have to build its infrastructure for live games from scratch. Netflix tried to secure the rights to Formula 1 racing earlier this year, but lost out to Disney.
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