The fact Irish UFC fans can no longer watch UFC Fight Night or PPV events on Fight Pass demonstrates that the UFC are selling out fans while undermining their own service. The move may also have had a negative impact on recent UFC 202 PPV numbers.
The UFC’s announcement that fans in Ireland would no longer be able to buy PPV events through UFC’s Fight Pass service was ill-timed for fans, but opportune for BT Sport, in that the deal was made just weeks prior to UFC 202, in which Ireland’s Conor McGregor faced Nate Diaz in their highly anticipated rematch.
BT Sport were no doubt eager to finalise the deal prior to UFC 202 in order to cash in on the Irishman’s fight. However, what it demonstrates is the UFC’s continuous ability to disenfranchise its fans in order to increase revenue.
UFC 202 was expected to achieve the highest PPV numbers in the company’s history. In the aftermath of the event, it looks as though it will fall short of the estimated 1.6m and 1.5m views of UFC 196 and UFC 100 respectively. Although the final numbers for UFC 202 have yet to be announced, one wonders what impact the BT Sport deal had on viewership in Ireland?
On the day the announcement was made, the UFC’s Twitter feed was inundated with criticism from Irish fans, many of whom threatened to cancel their Fight Pass subscription and to turn to pirated streams in order to view the event.
The controversy stems from the fact that BT Sport is no longer available on Virgin Media in Ireland; meaning those fans subscribed to Virgin will no longer be able to view UFC PPV events. It also means that any fans who are not BT Sport subscribers will no longer be able to purchase PPV events through their UFC Fight Pass subscription, nor will they have access to Fight Night main cards.
The fact that some fans would have paid an annual subscription to Fight Pass also means they lose even more money. and/or value. whether they subscribe to BT or not.
Fans in Ireland then are left with two options: to subscribe to BT Sport online, adding it to their current TV subscription (doing so through Eir requires an 18 month contract), or to find illegal means of watching the sport. The reality is that the agreement to no longer allow viewing of events through Fight Pass causes some fans to become disenfranchised.
The UFC will argue that the BT Sport deal has allowed them to grow the sport, because it opens up UFC events to BT Sport viewers who may not have previously been interested in MMA.
It is a strong argument, and there is no doubting that MMA has become a mainstream sport due to such deals. However, many people nowadays are taking their TV viewing 100% online through services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Restricting viewing of UFC PPV events to one outlet seems counter-intuitive to market trends. as well as to the UFC’s investment in Fight Pass. It is essentially forcing fans into an all-or-nothing approach to the sport. because either you subscribe to BT Sports and view everything, or you fail to subscribe and view none of the events.
UFC seem to be thus sending the message to fans that they should forget about their Fight Pass subscription and switch to BT Sports exclusively. And if you want to watch one-off events, then you are no longer welcome.
The fact remains that the UFC are risking angering dedicated fans of the sport in Ireland in exchange for being able to cast a wider net over potential viewers, especially with European UFC events now being aired after English Premier League games.
Whether or not BT Sport subscriptions will now increase, in addition to greater advertising revenues for the channel, still remains to be seen. However, the new restrictions placed on Irish Fight Pass members may have had a negative impact on PPV numbers for UFC 202, and will undoubtedly cause a lot of Fight Pass cancellations in Ireland.
One can only wonder what Conor McGregor makes of the timing of the deal given how motivated he is by breaking PPV records. The deal may also have future ramifications for McGregor events.
This is because McGregor has many fans who are not UFC fans, and who will now no longer be able to purchase one-off McGregor-only events.
Gary LaCumbre, Pundit Arena