Judging the BT Sport/UFC Combination Over a Year On
By James Lee
The broadcasting of a sport is essential. Whether intentional or not, the mass media have the ability to set the agenda. Ultimately, the larger the broadcaster, the more influential they are on influencing public opinion.
So when the UFC announced a deal with BT Sport in 2013, initial skepticism followed. At that time, the sport was in what could be deemed as its infancy; just 12 years removed from the UFC’s sale to the Fertita Brother’s. It would have been difficult to imagine the sport would be where it is now in this country just seven years ago.
Once slated in the House of Commons, with calls for its ban, it is now one of the most popular sports in the country and it cannot be argued that the BT Sport partnership has enhanced that progression.
The past year’s progression especially saw the sport taken to new heights, with Sky Sports being forced to finally broadcast the sport consistently.
It is hard to imagine the UFC being broadcast in the UK without BT Sport. That very much was nearly not the case in late 2018 when a deal with Eleven Sports was announced, but fortunately, or maybe not for the fans, the deal broke down when they failed to secure a deal with a large television broadcaster; once again exemplifying the importance of television, despite many suggesting a streaming service wouldn’t have changed viewership.
Eventually, BT Sport resigned, in a deal that excited fans. But over a year since that, the question is most relevant now as to whether the deal is good for fans in the UK, but most importantly, helpful in the progression of the sport.
The major difference in the updated deal compared to the one prior was the introduction of pay-per-view events for the first time. There have since been three; UFC 239, UFC 242 and UFC 246.
The change was odd as most events feature on the pacific time zone, which bodes badly for those on the other side of the Atlantic. With events in what would be deemed an unreasonable time, the charging for PPV events on top of the monthly subscription fee was met with widespread criticism, that had little impact seemingly.
The continuance of that model is expected throughout more of the year, with an increase likely. Similarly, those events are not available on demand afterwards and the entire on-demand system is weirdly non-existent.
However, the new deal has seen some progression. The amount of coverage for each event continues to grow, with the partnership of Dan Hardy and Co providing fight week coverage throughout most pay-per-events.
Additionally, the Inside the Octagon series with John Gooden and Dan Hardy is always educational and something unique that nowhere else in the sport offers.
The Darren Till package before his fight at UFC 228 was well received by fans also and they have since cemented themselves as providing the highest quality promotional broadcast packages for UFC events, even ahead of the promotion themselves and North-American broadcaster ESPN.
In turn however, they host every main card and preliminary card, giving an ability to simply watch every event. However, MMA is such a niche sport that those who pay the subscription probably do so solely for combat sport, despite receiving coverage of the Premier League and Champions League.
Although that may be the case, the publicity has helped the national mixed martial arts scene. Cage Warriors strived with coverage from BT and it allowed fighters to build themselves ready for the UFC or for the European scene.
Although they no longer broadcast Europe’s top destination, it cannot be argued they expanded the promotion with regular events. Paddy Pimblett is an example of a fighter who created star quality and propelled himself to the top of the UK game because of regular television coverage.
Similarly, Darren Till might not have the starpower he has now or have had the opportunity to bring the UFC to Liverpool in 2018 without the push from BT Sport.
Overall, it cannot be doubted that BT’s investment in the UFC has helped with the sport’s progression and perception in the UK. Where it was once deemed a blood sport by the mainstream, they have helped cement it as a major sport.
The deal isn’t perfect however. Pay-per-view costs on top of a subscription fee can be seen as unreasonable, but I guess that is the consequences of the committed fanbase that has grown the sport to the level it is at now.