One of the great things about being a BT Sport subscriber in the United Kingdom is that I get the chance to watch UFC events for free. Yes, all UFC shows whether pay-per-views or other broadcasts are shown live as part of my subscription package.
At least that has been the case until the UFC rolls out event No. 239. This weekend’s show will mark the first time the fight promotion has put one of its events behind the pay-wall in the UK. The move has been labeled as controversial and unless someone is a hardcore UFC viewer, there is a good chance they and many other fans in the UK will miss out on the show.
For those that are not aware, BT Sport is not available with every cable package in the UK. Unlike ESPN in the United States which is included in basic cable packages, sports fans must pay extra to add BT Sport in the first place. If UFC fans are already paying the monthly fee to get BT Sport, they may not be likely to pay for an additional pay-per-view event.
While BT Sport and UFC want to cash-in on the popularity of mixed martial arts in Europe, the idea to charge fans more to watch events seems likely to crash and burn. Despite BT Sport carrying top level football including the Premier League, German Bundesliga, and Champions League along with American college sports and Major League Baseball, many sports fans do not subscribe to the channel in the first place.
In February 2018, it was reported that fewer than 2 million people subscribe to BT Sport. Sky Sports has traditionally been the sports channel fans in the UK have subscribed to due to its long history with the Premier League.
Dedicated MMA fans who have already paid for BT Sport to specifically see UFC shows will feel like the promotion has pulled off bait and switch tactics for this weekend. Now, on top of their monthly fee, they must spend an additional £20.
UFC is still moving into mainstream status in the UK. Of course, UFC is on ESPN in the US which has transformed the mainstream coverage it has received in recent years. Only recently has the BBC changed its stance on MMA offering limited coverage of the sport. The BBC’s view on the sport has made it more legitimate despite MMA still holding a niche status.
Sky Sports does not cover UFC at all due to them not having the rights to events. The sports giant has an out of sight, out of mind mentality when it come to the combat sport.
If UFC and BT Sport want to make money off the UK market on pay-per-view events, they must book Conor McGregor in the main event. No other fighter carries the weight or intrigue that McGregor does. Without the Irishman on fight cards, UK audiences won’t show as much interest.
Saturday’s pay-per-view in the UK could be a rude awakening for the UFC. Although I am not one to stay up all night to watch events, I do tune in before giving into sleep. I won’t have that option this weekend. The UFC could lose a number of viewers with one simple money motivated move this weekend.