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UFC 224 available for order on Amazon Prime (Prime Video PPV)
In the past week, two of the top names in mixed martial arts made big announcements about their content distribution. As was rumored in the past several weeks, The Ultimate Fighting Championship confirmed that ESPN’s new ESPN+ platform would serve as a broadcast partner for at least 15 events in a multi-year deal worth $150 million per year. This would leave room a second broadcasting partner -- Fox is likely to sign a new deal -- to distribute additional content. However, the most surprising news came from Singapore-based One Championship. One announced the creation of a new mobile app that would host all of their events and give access to their archives as well.
Of course One’s new app, on the surface, sounds a lot like UFC Fight Pass. Fight Pass offers an archive of past events. It too is available as a convenient mobile app. And Fight Pass also broadcasts some live events. So what’s the big deal? One has taken the concept a step further than its North American counterpart. The key component that separates the two is accessibility. One’s new app simply makes their product easier to watch and in turn easier to enjoy.
The first clear difference is the price tag associated with it. One’s app is available as a free download and makes their content free as well. Juxtapose this with the UFC. Being a fan of the world’s No. 1 MMA promotion can ensure that you shell out a lot of money to keep up with its oversaturated event schedule. Between pay-per-view prices, a Fight Pass subscription, cable or a substitute service, and now ESPN+, the cost of being a follower of the promotion can set a household back a decent amount of money. On the other hand, One carries a fraction of that cost. All you need is a mobile phone with a data connection or WiFi.
Simplicity is also an advantage that One has. How many times have we changed the channel from the fictitious barrier between the preliminary card and the main card and gotten lost in the endless sea of specialized channels? How many times have we switched to Fox Sports 1 after the Fight Pass prelims ended, to find a Major League Baseball game in the 11th inning, only then to realize that the small ticker on the screen is telling us to turn to Fox Sports 2? (Cue the endless sea of specialized channels.) How about the rare times that FX shows the prelims and we realized our DVRs recorded a college basketball game instead of our beloved mixed-rules face punching? Who remembers holding a laptop, watching fights on Facebook, before switching over to the traditionally televised portion of the fight card? Being a well-informed fan of the UFC has never been a simple endeavor.
Another advantage that adds to the accessibility of One’s product with their new app is the elimination of geoblocking, the process of limiting user access to the internet based on the user’s physical location. Geoblocking is typically implemented by telecommunications companies, websites and other content providers and intellectual proprietors, often for the sake of copyright restrictions. Databases that map out IP addresses’ physical locations are often used to manage and enforce geoblocks. For Fight Pass users, this means that your location determines what content you have access to. For example, it just so happened that UFC 218 was rudely interrupted by my honeymoon. Similarly, my wedding prevented me from watching UFC 217 live. I attempted to watch at least some of the card on Fight Pass. I was prevented from this because it was being broadcast on a local channel. However, being unfamiliar with the local channels in Florence, Italy, and having a subpar channel lineup at my Airbnb meant that it was simply unavailable and my wife got her way. One passing up on geoblocking means that their content will be available no matter where someone is physically located. This is a simple and straightforward way to ensure their product is accessible to as many eyeballs as possible.
While this is a potential game changer with future implications, it’s not likely to make an immediate impact on the UFC’s place in the MMA world. They still hold the overwhelming majority of the game’s top-level talent and still benefit from well-established brand recognition. However, it is a step in the right direction in an overcrowded market. It is also unrealistic to expect the UFC to do an instant 180 and suddenly open the floodgates to entirely free viewing of their product. After all, pay-per-view is still the breadwinner for Endeavor’s combat sports brand. Up until the announcement of the app’s launch, One was only available to American fans via pay-per-view. They are a powerhouse in the Asian market and have the corresponding broadcasting deals to show for it. However, they still found a way to make it easier for new fans or those with less disposable income to watch their events. This is keeping an eye toward the future in building loyalty and therefore retaining a larger portion of the audience in the long run. If you happen to be a financially strapped household or a new fan to martial arts and combat sports, One’s app may make you sway to their side if you ever have to choose between which promoter wins your time on the many weekends we have to prioritize one event over another.
While we have to see how the ESPN deal plays out and what happens with the other half of the UFC’s broadcasting rights, One has taken a step to which would be wise to pay attention. Whether it’s the handling of Fight Pass -- with its role as a priority looking less stable in the soon-to-arrive ESPN era -- or how preliminary fights are made available, accessibility should be the goal. Dismantling a newly inked deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars isn’t a viable option. However, providing a seamless and simple way to watch content, whether it be in the confines of the new deal or years later when that deal expires, should be a primary concern. Making it easier for fans makes it easier to be a fan.
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