Did Disney Score a TKO With Its ESPN-UFC Partnership?

Chris Lange

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) has been looking for something to do with its ESPN business for years, but now it seems the Mouse House landed a solid blow with its newest partnership. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced that the streaming digital sports service ESPN+ will become its exclusive distributor of pay-per-view events.

The events will begin on April 13, almost exactly a year since ESPN+ was launched. ESPN+ has lured 568,000 new subscribers when UFC debuted in January after a Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts promoter moved fights there from Fox Sports.

Ultimately, this first-ever rights and distribution agreement between the two companies provides for 15 live UFC events to stream exclusively on ESPN+.  Each event will be branded “UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night” and will deliver a full card of 12 UFC bouts.

With more than 280 million fans around the world, UFC boasts the youngest fan base among major professional sports organizations in the United States, with a median age of 40 and an audience comprising 40% millennials.

Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN president and co-chair of Disney Media Networks, commented:

UFC is a premier global sports property with legions of incredibly avid fans.  We are excited to be able to bring their world-class events and content to ESPN+ and the ESPN networks.  This agreement shows the commitment we have to delivering fans the very best across our entire platform.

Dana White, UFC president, added:

I couldn’t be more excited to partner with The Walt Disney Company and ESPN on an agreement that will continue to grow our sport. UFC has always done deals with the right partners at the right time and this one is no exception. We will now have the ability to deliver fights to our young fan base wherever they are and whenever they want it. This deal is a home run for ESPN and UFC.”

Shares of Disney were last seen at $112.59, in a 52-week range of $97.68 to $120.20. The consensus price target is $126.45.