×
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

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • promenade Cannes Croisette Cannes Placeholder

    Cannes Market Claims Record Visitor Numbers

    The Cannes Market, the Cannes Film Festival’s commercial wing, says that its 2019 edition welcomed a record number of participants. It reported 12,527 attendees. The largest group by nationality was from the U.S. with 2,264 participants, followed by France with 1,943 participants, and the U.K. 1,145. Comparable figures for 2018 were not available. The number [...]

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein (L)

    Some Weinstein Accusers Balk at $30 Million Settlement

    Updated: Some of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers are balking at a proposed $30 million settlement of their harassment claims, which could scuttle the deal, Variety has learned. Attorneys in the Weinstein Co. bankruptcy case told Judge Mary Walrath on Thursday that they are close to a global resolution of the civil litigation. The accusers, their lawyers [...]

  • Director Dean DeBlois and online game

    'Dragon' Director Dean DeBlois and PUBG's CH Kim to Keynote 2019 VIEW Conference

    Dean DeBlois, director and executive producer of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” and PUBG Corporation CEO CH Kim are the first keynote speakers announced for the 2019 VIEW Conference in Turin, Italy, in October. Since it began 12 years ago, VIEW, which stands for Virtual Interactive Emerging World, has continually [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Accusers Near Settlement in Bankruptcy Case

    Attorneys in the Weinstein Co. bankruptcy case say they are getting close to reaching a settlement that would compensate Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct accusers. The company went bankrupt last year, as it faced hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and numerous civil suits on behalf of Weinstein’s alleged victims. The company sold to Lantern [...]

  • Ari Emanuel Endeavor

    Endeavor IPO Filing Offers Details of Company's Financials, Leadership Pay Packages

    Endeavor’s IPO filing Thursday offers a hard look at the company’s financial performance during the past three years during a period of rapid growth for the company that’s home to UFC, WME, Professional Bull Riders and a clutch of other assets. Endeavor is generating solid free cash flow from operations and healthy adjusted earnings for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content