As the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) TV deal with ESPN runs out in the next two years, Ari Emanuel – CEO of UFC parent company Endeavour – has hinted at several suitors interested in acquiring broadcasting rights from the MMA organisation. 

Emanuel spoke during an appearance at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom conference and, whilst acknowledging the UFC’s “great relationship” with its current exclusive TV partner, he did outline that a lot of buyers are gearing up to compete with the US sports programme. 

He said: “We have a great relationship with ESPN, love our relationship with them, and we have a year left until we can start our renewal. 

“I think it’s going to be a positive outcome for both parties but there’s a lot of buyers out there.”

The UFC and ESPN inked their initial five year deal back in 2019, making the sports broadcaster the home of UFC Fight Night cards and for UFC PPV preliminary cards. The deal was extended to run until 2025, in an agreement believed to be worth around $300m per year. 

However, the proliferation of US sports TV rights deals continues as many other major sporting leagues have or are preparing to ink new deals with broadcasters, with streaming platforms also entering the fray as potential bidders.

“If you just look at sports rights, Formula One in the United States, I think went from $5mto $95m (per year), hockey I think was $240m per season,” said Emanuel, outlining some of the recent increases in broadcast sports deals.

Recently, the National Football League (NFL) agreed a lucrative $1bn per year deal with Amazon to exclusively show Thursday Night Football games on the e-commerce giant’s streaming platform, Amazon Prime

The National Basketball Associations’ (NBA) TV rights deal is also due to be renegotiated next year with current broadcasters, however, Amazon, Apple and NBC Universal have all shown interest in acquiring rights to broadcast NBA games on their streaming services. 

Apple have ramped up their efforts in securing sporting broadcast rights as a part of their focus on sports-related content on their streaming platform Apple TV, recently agreeing a $2.5bn 10-year deal with Major League Soccer (MLS). 

Whilst the interest – according to Emanuel – for UFC TV rights remains large, the Endeavour CEO maintains that ESPN has become a great home for the UFC, which he believes have done a “great job” in growing the sport. 

He continued: “When we made our first UFC deal, there was one buyer and the buyer was Bob Iger actually. He’s the one that actually brought it over.

“I think we’ve done an amazing job for the growth of ESPN+ and ESPN and we have The Contender Series. Now they just ordered The Ultimate Fighter that Conor McGregor is on. So all in all, it’s one of the fastest growing sports out there, that’s demographic, social and male/female and age category.”

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