UFC fight fans across North America were already thrilled with the upcoming pay-per-view cards this fall after an uncharacteristically slow October slate. That was even before the UFC and ESPN announced that UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi was going to be available for viewing at ‘no additional cost’ to all ESPN+ subscribers.
For the first time, UFC fans in North America will not be charged (extra) to watch a PPV event, something that is actually commonplace across the globe for fans in other countries. There are a multitude of reasons for this taking place, namely because the promotion wants to further test out doing a daytime (in America) UFC PPV card that will line up with primetime viewing in its host country, Abu Dhabi (viewers outside North America will have to pay for this PPV).
In the end, hardcore fans – who would have gladly paid the typical $70+ for this event – are the big winners here. Somewhat obviously, the UFC does have ulterior motives here other than placating its loyal fans or altruism. The core of them lie within continuing to build up its ESPN+ subscriber base and show ESPN that the UFC is a major – if not the biggest – part of it’s entire, massive ESPN+ streaming platform.
Not long ago, the UFC made it so you had to be an ESPN+ subscriber to purchase a PPV event. While the company surely took a hit in overall PPV purchase numbers at first while some lagged on ponying-up the $6.99 (the price was recently raised $1)-per-month membership fee, Saturday night should serve as a large boost to those who will finally take the plunge and become ESPN+ subscribers.
Disney has seen ESPN+ grow from about 1.5M subs in its initial quarter in 2019 all the way up to 14.9M at the end of its last quarter in August. Surely, much of that has to do with it being the official home for UFC events, with fans getting about three ‘no charge’ events and one pay-per-view event during a typical month.
Additionally, you can also guarantee that the UFC is budgeting/offsetting any lost income on PPV buys this weekend with aggressive, in-your-face, valuable advertising of its biggest event of the year next weekend of UFC 268 (Usman vs. Covington 2 at MSG). It is smart business, through and through, and the fact that the diehard fans will come out of this in the green is just an added bonus for them.
In no way am I trying to push a narrative that this is a shady move from Dana White and the UFC — quite the opposite. All I’m doing is adding a little context, as the promotion has (understandably) communicated this as solely a generous gift to the fans. Truly, though, this PPV would not have done huge numbers and it is a short-term investment into a long-term play (further expanding the UFC fanbase).
At the end of the day, there is hardly ever a reason to question a free lunch — this is one of those times.