Over the past several months, there have been discussions of WWE potentially ending their relationship with USA in order to commence a partnership with FOX. WWE’s deal with NBC Universal expires on September 30, 2019, and CFO George Barrios said that the company hopes to announce their U.S. distribution plans between May and September of this year. In late 2017, Triple H had a meeting with executives of FOX Sports to potentially rekindle a partnership. WWE worked with the company in the past, airing a couple of episodes of Saturday Night’s Main Event, as well as a WrestleMania 11 special in 1995.
To make the bidding war more competitive, Variety reports that ESPN has partnered up with rival FOX Sports to bid for television rights for UFC. The two companies have recently proposed to split the UFC TV package, which would bring as many as 15 fight events to the new subscription streaming service, ESPN+. As a company, ESPN has agreed that it would be willing to pay $120-180 million per year to add UFC to the collection of live-event rights. In addition, FOX is willing to increase their contribution from $120 million to $200 million.
The effort in ESPN partnering with FOX aims to turn around the decline in UFC interest, as ratings dropped 22% in average total viewers from last year, falling to just under 2 million. The UFC Fight Night specials on FS1 also fell 17%, averaging 795,000 viewers.
In 2011, FOX signed a seven-year deal with UFC, which expires this year. A partnership with ESPN would keep the relationship with FOX and UFC alive, particularly since FOX is in the transition of selling the bulk of its entertainment divisions to Disney. In addition, this partnership would be a stronger presentation in the potential bidding war with WWE. The $200 million dollar bid from FOX to secure the UFC TV rights is far lower than the asking price of Endeavor, UFC’s parent company.