Strategic changes made to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s OTT service at the end of 2019 have been put to the test without its usual catalog of live combat sports.
So far, UFC Fight Pass has answered the bell, according to Crowley Sullivan, general manager and vice president of the direct-to-consumer streaming service. And now, combat sports are slowly coming back.
Countless UFC fans are expected to tune in on May 9 to watch UFC 249 on ESPN+. Fight Pass will again air preliminary fights before the pay-per-view in the U.S. and stream the entire event in select countries around the world for a separate fee.
Fans can also expect shows like “UFC On The Line,” “UFC Unfiltered,” and “UFC Countdown” on Fight Pass to help promote UFC’s return event.
Fight Pass normally airs live fights from more than 30 other promotions across mixed martial arts, boxing, and grappling. During the coronavirus pandemic, only former UFC fighter Chael Sonnen’s Submission Underground has continued live competition.
Fight Pass delivered live events to subscribers on 250 different nights in 2019 and was set to duplicate those efforts before the pandemic hit, according to the service.
“We’re already deep into discussions with all of our partners about how and when live events can come back,” Sullivan said. “There will not be any live events that go on Fight Pass platform until we are 100% certain we’re abiding by any and all health and standard guidelines in a region.”
Fight Pass unveiled better search functionality, higher video quality, and offline viewing for fans on December 4, and they’ve proved critical to the OTT platform’s performance during the pandemic. The new technology also helps the UFC better track user activity on its platform. Overall, changes to Fight Pass took roughly 18 months to implement.
“Prior to this overhaul, Fight Pass was a good serviceable platform. However, it dated back to back to its launch in 2013,” Sullivan said. “We’re able to have a much better peek into all of the data related to our subscriber base. Who’s watching what? When are they watching it?”
The back-end improvements also came with a commitment to producing more original series on Fight Pass. The service introduced six new shows to subscribers in April with plans to launch more in May.
Newly-released content includes shows like “Fightlore” – a series focused on untold stories across UFC – and “Year of the Fighter,” which documents the coming of age of the sport’s biggest stars.
“Live events are the foundation on which Fight Pass is built. When current offerings eventually are combined with what will be the return of live events, they are going to present subscribers and fans out there with really an unparalleled experience,” Sullivan said.
New original series on Fight Pass now join the service’s 30,000-plus assets in its video library of classic fights, UFC-related television programming, and – as of earlier this year – 60 classic mixed martial art films. Fight Pass costs subscribers $9.99 per month.
Sullivan declined to provide viewership or subscriber trend data during the pandemic, but said Fight Pass content has resonated well with subscribers. According to Deadline, the service had 400,000 subscribers in 2018.
“At a time when people are searching for ways to experience content, there’s been a clear demonstration, fight pass resonates in the marketplace,” Sullivan said. “We’re in a good spot right now with every reason to be optimistic about the remainder of this year and beyond.”