With the next Professional Fighters League season postponed until 2021, the mixed martial arts league moved up its planned OTT launch nearly a year early.
PFL CEO Peter Murray said the coronavirus pandemic accelerated its content plan with hopes it will help fuel growth for the nascent league. Originally it was supposed to launch with the 2021 season. PFL’s OTT app, which will be free to users globally, is available on Android, Apple TV, iOS, Fire and Roku devices.
“It’s always been part of our overall long-term game plan since we launched in 2018,” Murray said. “Two successful seasons under our belt, now is the time to expand into a multiplatform company vs. events.”
A motivator was PFL’s strong ratings growth on its broadcast partner ESPN. Murray said the second season had viewership 50% higher than the first season, and the second championship drew 100% more viewers. The 2019 championship drew 361,000 viewers on ESPN2.
Murray’s excitement for the launch stems from approximately 49% of sports content consumption coming on mobile and OTT’s $100 billion and growing market.
“Linear will continue to play a major role in sports and at the PFL every event is on linear and digital, that’s critically important,” he said. “But with OTT, it just gives the opportunity to go direct and engage fans where and when and how they want to consume.”
On the platform upon launch is a complete library of PFL’s fights as well as the World Series of Fighting. There will also be original programming from PFL Studios, which is led by 16-time Emmy-winner George Greenberg and PFL Chief Digital Officer Dan Ghosh-Roy. Murray himself spent time at NFL Films.
The platform’s main objective will be to deliver content to the global audience, as ESPN has exclusive broadcasting rights in the U.S., including four episodic series which are set to begin broadcasting later this month. The full archival library will be available in the U.S., and it will promote the ESPN and ESPN+ programming.
“It’s expanded distribution direct to consumers and fans,” Murray said.
With an international audience in mind — an MMA fan base reportedly as large as 450 million — Murray said the platform will help drive revenue growth. Murray declined to speak specifically about revenues. PFL has partnerships with companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Geico.
“Brands and marketers cannot ignore this growing, diverse and young fanbase,” he said. “Those avid MMA fans are not watching stick and ball sports. They’re not watching football, they’re not watching baseball. Madison Avenue has taken note.
“With the OTT platform we have the ability to expand reach, grow audience and drive engagement,” he said.
Monetizing the platform primarily through advertisements and sponsorships, Murray said micro transitions around gaming and exclusive content will also become a part of the streaming strategy moving forward.
PFL still trails in comparison to its larger MMA competitor UFC, but with an already large global fanbase for the sport and approximately 80 annual events across promoters, Murray believes there’s plenty of growth potential.
“We have much more work to do to refine the product and expand the format, but now is the natural time to evolve into a year-round content company,” Murray said.