UFC debut on ESPN+ draws record subscriptions

NEW YORK • ESPN+'s debut of UFC Fight Night last Saturday drew a record number of subscribers, marking the largest catalyst for Walt Disney's premium sports video service.

The streaming service added 568,000 new subscribers over the weekend, with more than 90 per cent coming in last Saturday, Disney said.

In contrast, it took ESPN+ five months to surpass one million paying subscribers after it launched the service in April last year.

Saturday night's mixed martial arts event "continued the momentum for ESPN+, delivered strong ratings on ESPN and marks a great start to our new agreement with the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship)", said Disney's direct-to-consumer division chief Kevin Mayer.

Among traditional media companies, Disney is making the biggest bet on streaming and monthly subscriptions. In addition to ESPN+ and Hulu, the company is expected to show off its highly anticipated Disney+ streaming service at an April 11 investor meeting, offering a peek at a platform that will provide a head-on challenge to Netflix.  

The 13 UFC fights from Brooklyn's Barclays Centre were aired live on ESPN in English and ESPN Deportes in Spanish.

Henry Cejudo retained his flyweight championship against bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw in a 32-second finish. It was the highest-rated UFC Fight Night Prelims on cable in six years.

Last Saturday's event was the first fight card of ESPN+'s five-year agreement with UFC, where it will offer 20 exclusive UFC Fight Night events a year.

ESPN president James Pitaro said: "All day, and across all ESPN platforms, we collectively demonstrated the promise of what we can do to fulfil our mission of serving a wider array of sports fans."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2019, with the headline 'UFC debut on ESPN+ draws record subscriptions'. Print Edition | Subscribe