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ESPN Adds Fights to UFC TV Rights Deal, Reaching $1.5 Billion Value (EXCLUSIVE)

ESPN is doubling down on UFC, the mixed martial arts league the Disney-owned sports behemoth secured its first TV rights deal in April.

Sources familiar with negotiations say ESPN has struck a deal for a second portion to the package currently held by Fox Sports that will bring the total cost in the neighborhood of $300 million per year for five years, totaling $1.5 billion. The new deals, which cover a total of 30 fights per year, kick in early 2019.

Reps from ESPN, UFC and Fox Sports could not be reached for comment.

As with their other pact, the events covered under this deal will be split between ESPN’s linear channels and ESPN+, the new streaming service launched last month.

Fox is exiting the UFC business after spending well north of $1 billion on a new WWE deal. After nabbing a different set of TV rights from UFC in April for a five-year deal worth $750 million, the second pact will deliver an additional 15 fights to Disney. UFC will still offer pay-per-view and its Fight Pass streaming service.

UFC, which was acquired by Endeavor for a hefty $4.4 billion, isn’t getting as much per year as it had sought for these rights. It’s a reflection of declining TV ratings on Fox Sports for UFC, which has struggled to keep its momentum going despite the absence of the caliber of star fighters that propelled the league to its peak just a few years ago.

But the new deal still represents a more than doubling of what Fox paid UFC in the soon-to-lapse seven-year deal, a testament to the enduring market value of live sports.

The double dose of UFC deals comes months after ESPN brought in a new president, James Pitaro, who arrives at a precarious juncture for the Disney behemoth as subscriber declines take their toll on the division’s profits.

Brian Steinberg and Daniel Holloway contributed to this story.

Correction: The original headline for the article erroneously suggested that ESPN added 30 fights to the existing UFC TV rights deal. In fact, 15 were added to the existing 15, which makes for a total of 30 fights covered under the deal.

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