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UFC Brooklyn preview: Promotion’s new ESPN+ deal ushers in new (and expensive) era in sports

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Before we begin, I would just like to apologize to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for ever complaining about the 6,742 commercial breaks that littered every UFC on FOX Sports 1 fight card, because it’s true what they say.

You don’t know what you got, ‘til it’s gone.

I think one of the best formulas the promotion ever had existed in the formative years of the world’s preeminent mixed martial arts (MMA) organization. “Fight Night” cards aired on Spike TV featuring a mix of veteran and up-and-coming talent, while the marquee match ups were reserved for pay-per-view (PPV).

I never thought I’d be nostalgic for sitting in front of my television, flipping to a channel, and watching the fights.

It was simple, easy, and best of all ... free. I understand that nothing is really free, that you have to pay for a cable subscription and some folks don’t get Spike TV or FOX Sports 1 in their areas and blah, blah, blah... to which I say: shut up, you know what I’m talking about.

UFC recently completed its seven-year deal with FOX and after the network laughed at the renewal fee, the promotion took its product to ESPN (full details here). As expected, the so-called “Worldwide Leader in Sports” jumped at the offer and spent whatever it had to, simply because UFC is the hottest ticket in town.

Ha ... just kidding.

ESPN has lost 15 million cable and satellite subscribers since 2011, which equates to $1.44 billion a year in lost revenue. Even after UFC was announced for the ESPN+ platform, financial outlets like The Motley Fool remained pessimistic about the digital service and its fiscal future.

If you want to subscribe to ESPN+, you’ll need to pay $4.99 per month, or $50 per year if you agree to an annual subscription. That’s a pretty good deal, all things considered, as most coffee drinks at Starbucks cost more than that.

The problem for me, and I think many other fans, is that the subscriptions are starting to pile up. UFC also wants you to subscribe to its Fight Pass service, which boasts an extensive library of both PRIDE and UFC fights, as well as live streams of smaller combat sports promotions, like Invicta FC.

That will set you back $9.99.

Then we have DAZN, which also wants $9.99 for access to big-time boxers like Anthony Joshua and Canelo Alvarez, along with MMA promotions like Bellator MMA and Combate Americas.

$25 a month for MMA? No thanks.

Not when subscription budgets have to be allocated for other services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube Premium, and Hulu, among others. And yes, most of us are still paying for cable or satellite while jamming a Roku or Fire Stick into the back of our televisions.

When did watching TV get so complicated?

And that doesn’t include the $64.99 shelled out for UFC PPV cards, making it expensive to remain an MMA fan. UFC will stage a total of six events on ESPN+ over the next two months, starting this Sat. night (Jan. 19) in Brooklyn, so the seven-day free trial will only work for one show.

Do I expect a huge influx of paying fans as the wheels get rolling? Absolutely.

But I’d also expect them to drop off after a few months, because the promotion does not have enough stars to make the ESPN+ cards worth watching. The big names will stay on PPV and the rest ... well, just take a look at this card to understand what’s in store for the second half of 2019.

Keep in mind, UFC ratings were garbage when it was free to watch. Now it costs money!

I don’t want UFC to fail. When the promotion is doing well, I’m doing well right along with it, so I’m hoping for the best. But outside of my business interests, I’m also a fan of MMA and I don’t think it’s being overly whiny to ask for easier (and more affordable) access.

For a free, seven-day trial of ESPN+, which entitles you to watch the UFC on ESPN+ 1: “Cejudo vs. Dillashaw” event this Sat. night (Jan. 19, 2019) from inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, click here.