“Obviously, you’re going to have access to the library and lots of other programming that’s going to be on the network, but there’s going to be a ridiculous amount of live fights.” – Dana White
The UFC announced Fight Pass on December 22, 2013. On January 4, the UFC aired its first live card on Fight Pass, a Fight Night event from Singapore. Then they ran Fight Pass events on back to back Saturdays in March from China and London. Abu Dhabi the next month. By the end of the year, the UFC put on twelve events that aired on the digital network.
The first Fight Pass event of 2015 didn’t take place until April 11. The UFC followed that up with events in May and June. There were no Fight Pass events in July despite five cards, including a lineup in Glasgow, Scotland, that seemed like an obvious choice.
According to the UFC’s schedule, there are only two more events schedule for Fight Pass: October 24 in Dublin and November 28 in South Korea. Assuming the schedule doesn’t change, Fight Pass subscribers will see a 64% reduction in the number of events.
Dana White was very clear about what kinds of cards Fight Pass subscribers should expect.
“[T]he fights that we do in China are for China. The fights we do in Europe are going to be for Europe. But with this new digital network that we’re launching, people who are hardcore fans and want to watch the fights will be able to.”
Fans have been able to watch every UFC event in 2015…just not as much on Fight Pass. An event from the Philippines featuring Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber (in a “superfight”) aired on Fox Sports 1. An event from Glasgow, Scotland, which featured a lineup almost perfectly built for Fight Pass, aired on Fox Sports 1. An upcoming event from Saitama, Japan, will air on Fox Sports 1. Last year’s show in Japan aired on Fight Pass.
There are rumors that the UFC has pulled back due to low subscriber numbers. If that’s the case, taking more content off the network seems liable to chase more people off. Ten dollars got you one event per month in 2014. Now, you’re getting (less than) half that.
Now, the UFC has added more content this year. In January, they announced they would stream archived fights from eight promotions, including Cage Rage, King of the Cage, and Pancrase. They added live events from Shooto Brazil and Titan FC to go along with the Invicta shows they started airing in September of last year.
While that is great news for the hardcore MMA fan (and the hardcore gambler), a collection of regional MMA doesn’t make up for lost UFC events. And I find it highly unlikely that the brand-conscious UFC would want to equate its lower-tier shows with events from said regional shows.
It’s worth wondering what the UFC’s end goal is for Fight Pass. When WWE announced the WWE Network, they pushed all their chips in the middle and moved its entire pay-per-view offering onto it. It was a risky move, and one that necessitated budget cuts during a growing pains period, but it seems as if business has started to settle. Fans aren’t able to consume the entire WWE product through the Network (the flagship weekly shows still air on traditional television), but the entire cost of being a WWE fan is a cable subscription and $9.99 a month.
The UFC has seen a resurgence in pay-per-view numbers this year after a disastrous 2014. In addition, they still have three years remaining on the deal they signed with Fox in 2011. With those two things in mind – plus the ever-rising dollars networks are paying for live sports content – it seems unlikely the UFC would follow the WWE model. And if that’s the case, will Fight Pass end up as a glorified archive?