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ESPN locks up TV rights to UFC fights to expand on its digital deal with ESPN+

Featherweights Dennis Bermudez and Darren Elkins fight at

Featherweights Dennis Bermudez and Darren Elkins fight at UFC Long Island at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, on July 22, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday/Jeffrey Basinger

ESPN will be the new home for UFC fights on both digital and linear platforms in the United States, the companies announced Wednesday.

Variety and Sports Business Daily reported the deal is worth $1.5 billion over the next five years.

ESPN previously had announced a $150 million per year deal with UFC to carry events on its new, subscriber-based platform, ESPN+, but this greatly expands on that.

Wednesday’s announcement of the television rights brings the total number of live UFC events on ESPN platforms to 42, starting in 2019. ESPN+ will air 20 events. ESPN will air 10 UFC Fight Night events, plus the prelim bouts before 12 pay-per-view events.

“Every year for the last 18 years, we have taken this sport and brand to another level,” UFC president Dana White said. “We find innovative ways to promote our athletes and build stars. Today is another monumental day for UFC, our athletes, and our fans. We are now part of the ESPN family, recognized around the world as the pinnacle in sports broadcasting. I am very excited for this next chapter for UFC.”

ESPN supplanted Fox Sports, which has carried the package since 2011. ESPN will pay a total of $300 million per year, on average, for its UFC rights, more than double what Fox has paid on average.

The bold move is in keeping with a strategy new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro outlined last week of trying to attract younger viewers, and using mixed martial arts as one avenue to do so.

“ESPN’s unparalleled multimedia platform is the perfect home for the UFC and will deliver tremendous value to both parties,” Pitaro said in a statement. “UFC fans are passionate and loyal and we plan to bring the full power of ESPN’s live coverage, powerful storytelling and unmatched distribution to serve them in an unprecedented fashion. We can’t wait to get started.”

With Neil Best

New York Sports