The Professional Fighters League has found a broadcast partner to help bolster growth during its second year.
The regular season, playoffs and championship-format combat sports league signed a two-year deal with ESPN for the sports network to become the exclusive broadcast partner.
The inaugural PFL season was broadcast on NBCSN and Facebook Watch. With the ESPN partnership, PFL will have all its events on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes and digitally on ESPN+, while TSN has Canadian rights. Facebook Watch will retain certain international rights, with more details forthcoming, PFL CEO Pete Murray said.
Murray said slating PFL events on Thursday nights will separate it from other combat sports, and during its summer season capitalize on a relatively slow sports season. The PFL season includes six five-hour, regular-season events from May to August and three playoff events in October.
“We’re excited to partner with ESPN, and the fact it is the destination for combat sports is a great opportunity for us to grow awareness and carve out a niche,” Murray said. “We have a real opportunity to engage avid fans and even broader sports fans.”
The initial deal is two years, but Murray said the league’s plan and his expectation is to be with ESPN for a long period.
As ESPN executives hope to double down on its combat sports programming, the network will air live events and additional PFL programming.
“We are pleased to add the PFL to our combat sports roster,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN executive vice president of programming and scheduling. “This unique and innovative competition structure provides MMA fans with a great option to see some of the best fights and content in the sport.”
Part of Murray’s excitement heading into the second season of PFL is the technological aspect to the broadcasts, which he said will be deployed throughout the year. During events, Murray said fans will be provided real-time, data-tied performance in the cage, of SmartCage and Cagenomics, ranging from miles-per-hour of a punch or kick to caloric burn and heart rate.
“Last year, we presented a new format of a sport,” he said. “This year, we’ll add to that format the tech as a big part of the live experience, rich data that will enhance the sport.”
Along with the in-season events and playoffs, ESPN will also air five additional programs throughout the season, including “Road to the Playoffs,” “Road to the Championship,” and “Best of Season,” as well as a 2018 season review and 2019 roster selection show.
The additional programming beyond the actual events is a strategy Murray sees great value in, having once worked closely while at the NFL on the “Hard Knocks” and NFL Films.
The league is built partially on year-round storytelling, Murray said. Along with a strong digital presence and the extra programming on ESPN, PFL also will have a weekly podcast distributed by ESPN.
“That’s a big part of our go-to-market,” Murray said. “Grow awareness and drive engagement. Not only do we have a unique format built to create stars — each of our fights means something, but we drive the storylines.”
The second season of PFL starts in May, building on a what Murray called a successful season that finished on New Year’s Eve.
“We launched a brand, validated a unique, innovative format and presented a high-quality, compelling experience,” he said. “We finished the year with five million people tuned in from around the world. It was a short amount of time, lots of traction and global appeal.”