The UFC in Great Britain and Ireland is likely to have a new home by 2019.
The world’s biggest MMA promotion has only been available to view in full on BT Sport since they bought the rights from ESPN in 2013. That hasn’t been without its problems (i.e. not being available on Virgin Media in Ireland with the Fight Pass PPV option now taken away), but for the most part, the arrangement works well given the early morning starts on this side of the pond.
That’s all about to change according to the BBC, who report that BT have walked away from the bidding process for both UFC and NBA rights, forfeiting them both in the process.
A spokesperson for the broadcaster is quoted as saying: “We won’t bid any more than the rights are worth to us.”
The current deal lasts until the end of 2018, but the BBC’s report cites the rights as ending on December 3, meaning that BT will not be showing UFC 231 and 232 pay-per-views, which are currently scheduled for December 8 and 29 respectively.
So what becomes of UFC coverage in western Europe? There are two glaring options.
First is that Sky Sports finally pick up the UFC coverage that has passed through Bravo TV (rest in peace), ESPN UK, and now BT Sport. The closest that Sky have come to doing so though is showing episodes of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality series, defunct British promotions like Cage Rage, and going all in on Conor McGregor’s boxing bout against Floyd Mayweather last year.
The fear is that like WWE and sometimes boxing, Sky would plump for a pay-per-view system – a non-starter given that fans are already paying for a subscription to watch at ungodly hours of the morning.
The second option is via Eleven Sports. Owned by the Leeds United chairman Andrea Radrizzani, Eleven Sports has been hoovering up sports rights since its arrival on the UK scene. They got La Liga rights from Sky Sports, and poached Serie A coverage from BT just last week. Where the confusion comes in is in how they broadcast it.
Though they are said to be launching two channels, their coverage of the PGA Championship golf tournament in August will be shown on their website, which will offer a week’s free trial.
Some quick clarity on the situation will be much welcomed, especially if Conor McGregor’s long-awaited return takes place in December.