×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Listen: UFC’s Lawrence Epstein on ESPN Deal, Endeavor Acquisition and MMA’s Growth Spurt

The UFC is poised for a big year in 2019, starting with the kickoff next month of its broad five-year rights pact with ESPN.

Lawrence Epstein, chief operating officer of UFC parent company Zuffa, LLC, has no shortage of growth ambitions for the sports league that is the marketing leader in the growing arena of mixed martial arts leagues.

In the latest episode of “Strictly Business,” Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment, Epstein discusses his high expectations for a busy 2019. He emphasizes the brand-building “credibility” that the ESPN partnership will confer on UFC and the astronomical earnings power of UFC superstars such as Conor McGregor. Epstein also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the sale process that lead to the company’s $4 billion acquisition by Endeavor in 2016. And he optimistically looks at the expanding field of MMA competitors as a rising tide that should lift all bouts for a sport that boasts a young and highly diverse fan base. 

UFC’s top priority for the coming year is getting its programming alliance with ESPN off to a good start. The deal should pay dividends beyond the $1.5 billion that ESPN has committed to carry UFC events over the next five years on its linear channel and fledgling ESPN Plus streaming service. Having the dominant U.S. sports network as a non-exclusive distributor of UFC’s dozen annual pay-per-view events is expected to rev up sales in the league’s core profit center.

“The credibility of being in partnership with the Walt Disney Company and ESPN has helped us in so many ways — in terms of sponsorship. It’s helped our foreign TV deals,” Epstein said. UFC had been with Fox Sports on the linear TV side in recent years.

Epstein notes that it was the increase in “inbound inquiries” about potential buyout offers in 2015 that prompted UFC’s owners to initiate a formal sale process that lasted nine months and led to the July 2016 acquisition by Endeavor. There was a comfort level built in to the deal because Endeavor’s WME unit had been UFC’s talent rep for a decade.

Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel “had expressed a passion for this business for many, many years,” Epstein said. “The question was financially could they go out and raise the money and get this thing done. … It was the right deal for us at the right time.”

Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous episodes featuring FX’s John LandgrafAMC Networks CEO Josh SapanShowtime’s David NevinsSpotify’s Dawn OstroffBankable Productions’ Tyra BanksHBO’s Richard Plepler, and Entertainment Studios’ Byron Allen. A new episode debuts every Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunesGooglePlayStitcher, and SoundCloud.

(Pictured: UFC star Conor McGregor)

More Biz

  • Steven Wilson Ron Hofmann Hayley Antonian

    PR Vets Steven Wilson, Ron Hofmann, Hayley Antonian Leave BWR to Form New Agency

    BWR’s Steven Wilson, Ron Hofmann, and Hayley Antonian have announced the formation of a new communications company, Scenario, headquartered in Los Angeles and New York. Together, Wilson, Hofmann, and Antonian will serve as co-presidents while providing integrated communication strategies for clients across the entertainment, lifestyle, and technology industries. Entrepreneur and business strategist Brian Lee will work alongside [...]

  • NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06:

    Endeavor Promotes Mark Shapiro to President

    After four years overseeing content operations at IMG, Mark Shapiro has been promoted to president of Endeavor. Shapiro’s elevation to the newly created post comes as Endeavor has expanded dramatically during the past few years, starting with its acquisition of IMG in 2014. Endeavor is now the parent company of WME, IMG, UFC and other [...]

  • Rhapsody, Sony Music to Launch Spotify

    Rhapsody, Sony Music to Launch Spotify Competitor in Japan

    Rhapsody and Sony Music Entertainment today announced a partnership to launch what they describe as the first on-demand, high-resolution streaming music service in Japan. Rhapsody International is providing its “Powered by Napster” platform including a set of systems, tools and APIs to allow SMEJ to quickly launch and bring its on-demand service to market. The service, [...]

  • China's Alibaba to Take Majority Control

    Alibaba to Take Majority Control of Alibaba Pictures

    Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is to take majority control of its films unit Alibaba Pictures. The $160 million (HK$1.25 billion) deal was announced Monday. The companies said that Alibaba would increase its stake in Hong Kong- and Singapore-listed Alibaba Pictures through a share subscription. It will lift the parent company’s stake from 49% to 51%, [...]

  • Guy Moot

    Is Sony/ATV’s Guy Moot Headed for Top Job at Warner/Chappell?

    Ever since Jon Platt announced in September that he will be stepping down from his post at the helm of Warner/Chappell Publishing to take the top job at Sony/ATV when Martin Bandier’s contract is up at the end of March, speculation has been rife about who will take over for him. One name has been [...]

  • The King Eric Clapton A Life

    Rashida Jones, Lili Zanuck Talk Grammy Nominations and the Music-Documentary Gold Rush

    Nothing takes you back to time and a place like the music of a particular era. That’s one big reason why music documentaries are flourishing at a time of enormous demand for high-end docu productions. This year’s five Grammy Award nominees for best music film reflect the appetite for stories about renowned and beloved musical figures, [...]

  • il bussetto best business card holder

    Office-Appropriate Gifting: The Best Gifts For Your Colleagues and Bosses

    You can do better than a handshake or bottle of wine to wish your boss a Happy Holiday this season. Here are 10 gifts that show your appreciation for your colleagues or manager, while also helping you stand out from the card and cookie-wielding pack. 1. Personalized Beer Growler Whether they are using it for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content