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ESPN Inks Exclusive Rights Deal With PFL Mixed-Martial Arts League

The Professional Fighters League (PFL), the first mixed-martial arts organization to present the sport in a playoffs and championship format, reached a multiyear deal with ESPN making its TV networks and ESPN+ streaming service the exclusive home of the PFL in the U.S.

PFL launched its inaugural season in 2018, with an initial TV deal with NBCUniversal’s NBCSN sports network. Investors in the PFL include Kevin Hart, self-help guru Tony Robbins, MGM Television chairman Mark Burnett, billionaire tech entrepreneur Ted Leonsis and Riot Games co-founder Brandon Beck.

ESPN has a newfound appetite for MMA: The Disney-owned sports programmer landed a $1.5 billion, five-year deal for the UFC’s TV rights package, nabbing them from Fox Sports. ESPN and ESPN+ began carrying UFC bouts last month. UFC views upstarts like PFL as complementary — sort of like the minor leagues of MMA — and helping to promote the sport’s overall popularity.

Under ESPN’s deal with Professional Fighters League, all 10 PFL events in 2019 will air live across ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+, the direct-to-consumer subscription sports streaming service, with up to three hours of exclusive action live on ESPN+ and up to two exclusive hours live on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. The rights include the regular season, playoffs and championship event.

The season culminates with the PFL 2019 Championship on New Year’s Eve with title fights in every weight class live exclusively on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. Winners of each title bout will be crowned PFL World Champion in their weight class and earn $1 million.

PFL also announced a deal with Canada’s TSN sports network, which will be the exclusive home for the company’s MMA events in the country.

Six five-hour PFL regular-season events will take place on Thursday nights from May to August. Three PFL playoff events will take place in October, with coverage also carried across ESPN+, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. PFL playoff events will feature the top eight fighters in each of the competition’s six weight classes attempting to win twice in the same night to advance to the PFL Championship.

In addition to the live events, ESPN platforms will present pre- and post-event coverage and additional exclusive PFL content. The agreement starts with the telecast of the 2018 PFL Season Review and 2019 Roster Selection Show this spring. Specific scheduling details are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

“We are pleased to add the PFL to our combat sports roster,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN EVP of programming and scheduling. “ESPN is the home of combat sports, and we look forward to delivering thrilling live PFL events and powerful storytelling to fans, across all platforms.”

Firsts during this PFL season are slated to include the debut of MMA’s first-ever 155-pound women’s division which will feature two-time U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Kayla Harrison, as well as SmartCage and Cagenomics, proprietary PFL features that deliver real-time data and analytics.

“This agreement to bring PFL to ESPN and ESPN+ further validates our unique and innovative product and will accelerate the PFL’s growth,” Donn Davis, co-founder and chairman of Professional Fighters League, said in a statement.

Pictured above: Rashid Magomedov (left) trades punches with Luiz Firmino during their bout at PFL 5 in August 2018 at Nassau Coliseum in New York. Magomedov won via decision.

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