The High Cost of Being an MMA Fan

By Jay Pettry Jan 18, 2019
You can sign up for a free seven-day trial of ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream UFC on ESPN+ 1 live on your computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

In anticipation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's debut on a new network and its streaming platform through ESPN and ESPN+, we have broken down the costs of what it will take to be an MMA fan in 2019. This means watching every UFC fight, down to the early preliminary bouts on ESPN+ or UFC Fight Pass. After determining that, we flesh out the other major organizations running today, and what it truly takes to watch all of those events, from both monetary and observational perspectives.

This article assumes a few things to simplify the numbers and the discussion. First, it assumes that an average bout takes approximately 30 minutes, including: pre-fight promos, walkouts, introductions, the fight itself and any breaks between rounds, a standard post-fight interview and finally the fighters departing the cage or ring. Second, it does not factor in the cost of cable television or internet, as cable and internet packages vary drastically depending on channels, location and speed. Third, the calculations are based on the full prices, and do not factor in any discounts, promotional packages or any taxes unless otherwise specified. Lastly, these are the costs for American MMA fans; international audiences may differ significantly.

Keep Your Hands Off of My Stack

The UFC still embraces the pay-per-view model, and after recent negotiations to give the promotion a larger slice of the revenue, there are no major signs of changing in the near future. As the organization stated in their official press release, 20 events will be held on the ESPN+ streaming service, with another 10 on ESPN television networks, and 12 more on PPV, for a grand total of 42 events through ESPN.

To this end, the 12 events on the PPV platform each cost $64.99 in a high definition format, totaling $779.88. To watch preliminary bouts and potentially additional international cards in their entirety, fight fans also need to subscribe to UFC Fight Pass, which is $9.99 per month (or a one-year package costs $95.88). Finally, with this network deal, a fan now needs to subscribe to ESPN+ in order to watch all of the events, which is an additional monthly cost of $4.99 (or a one-year package costing $49.99).

Dispelling rumors in the MMA community, according to sources from ESPN there is no package deal linking ESPN+ to UFC Fight Pass, nor is there currently a way to purchase one through the other in a bundle. As part of the broadcasting deal, ESPN+ will its own UFC fight library for the subscribers, and as of the writing of this piece, it currently hosts nine events and scattered bouts on the service ranging from UFC 86 in 2008 to UFC 229 in 2018.

Therefore, if a UFC fan holds monthly subscriptions to the aforementioned services and purchases all of the PPV events in 2019, they can be expected to pay $959.64. If those fans instead bought yearly subscription packages of ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass, that cost would drop down to $925.75. All things being equal, this is an uptick of about $50 to $60 for UFC fans compared to 2018.

Ben Duffy/ illustration

Get a Good Job with Good Pay and You’re Okay

In comparison, and using figures from these leagues based on 2018 prices, Major League Baseball has a viewing package called MLB Extra Innings for fans. Fans purchasing that package through their cable networks can expect to spend an average of $167.69 to be able to watch virtually every game in the entire season, including spring training and playoffs. In the National Football League, two packages are offered: NFL Game Pass, which is $99 per season but only allows you to watch games after they have already aired; or NFL Sunday Ticket, which costs $293.94 for the season. The latter should allow users to watch any game throughout the year.

Over in the National Hockey League, a yearly All Access Pass to see practically every game will set fans back $139.99, whereas a subscription to watch every game for a particular team costs $109.99. For basketball fans, the National Basketball Association has two seasonal passes -- the NBA League Pass, and the NBA League Pass Premium -- with the second simply the first plus no commercials. The standard NBA League Pass costs $199.99 for a season, or $249.99 for Premium, allows for fans to watch all games, replays, historic games and even has VR capabilities. In sum, if a motivated sports fan were to purchase the best viewing packages to watch practically every MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA game in a year, they would only end up spending $911.61, or $48.03 less than they would to watch the UFC.

Ben Duffy/ illustration

Additionally, wrestling fans have a way to watch all WWE content, through the WWE Network streaming service. According to our friends at Wrestlezone, the service costs $9.99 per month. It shows every PPV event along with weekly shows on a delay, for a yearly subscription of $119.88. If the ultimate sports fan from above were to also pick up the WWE network as well as those from the other four major sports organizations, they would need to pay $1,031.49 total, or only about $72 more than the UFC fan.

Don’t Take a Slice of My Pie

Joining the UFC in 2018 to put more bouts behind a paywall was Bellator MMA, who signed a deal with streaming service DAZN to host events in 2018 and beyond. Previously, all broadcasted Bellator bouts could be seen for free on the promotion’s preliminary stream on their website, or televised on Spike/Paramount Network. With this deal, fight fans need to factor in an additional cost of $9.99 each month for a total of $119.88 in order to watch every Bellator card. Despite this additional subscription, Bellator still does not air every bout on a fight card, with many dark matches on the preliminaries and postliminaries.

Meanwhile, two other organizations -- KSW and One Championship -- each changed their broadcasting strategies in 2018. Poland’s KSW held four events on PPV for a total of $47.96 before partnering with DAZN, like Bellator, for their final show of 2018. One Championship, however, went from airing all their events free to signing a U.S. TV deal with Turner Sports. According to One Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong, once the US TV deal begins, fights will no longer air free for American fans. As of now, no price has been affixed to upcoming One Championship broadcasts on the B/R Live streaming service, and the first two events in 2019 will air free.

The Professional Fighters League in 2018 did not put any of their bouts behind a paywall, with every bout airing either on their Facebook Live stream or on the NBCSN channel. Although the NBCSN channel may not be on all standard cable packages, they did not charge fans more despite paying out millions of dollars in their 2018 tournament. Meanwhile, for fight fans to watch every Invicta Fighting Championships event, they would need to utilize their UFC Fight Pass subscription discussed previously.

One other major MMA promotion continued its PPV model in 2018: Rizin Fighting Federation. Six Rizin events took place in 2018, and all of them could be purchased on for a total of $99.95.

To be an MMA fan is a costly endeavor, and the UFC takes the lion’s share of the expenses. If a hardcore fight fan paid to watch every event of these other organizations along with the UFC in 2018, they would have been required to shell out a grand total of $1,167.55. In 2019, that amount may be greater.

Ticking Away the Moments that Make Up a Dull Day

MMAJunkie calculated the amount of time spent in the Octagon in 2018, totaling 87 hours, 21 minutes and 11 seconds. Presenting a clear picture, the UFC devoted over three and a half days solely to athletes competing inside the Octagon. This statistic does not quite encompass the entire viewing experience for a fight fan, and using the approximation from the beginning of the article, fight fans spend a lot more time watching events than perhaps previously realized.

474 fights took place in the UFC this year, translating to roughly 14,220 minutes, or 237 hours, or nine days and 21 hours of total fight watching. Breaking this down further, watching every UFC event from the start of every broadcast to the end would account for 2.7% of the entire year of 2018. Across 39 events in 2018, each event averaged a little over 12 bouts per card. As the UFC is looking to hold at least three more events compared to 2018, and the pacing of events is not likely to accelerate, fight fans can expect to spend an extra 18 hours or more depending on scheduling to catch every event in 2019.

Ben Duffy/ illustration

Fritter and Waste the Hours in an Offhand Way

When adding in other promotions, the time investment to watch MMA can start to take its toll on even the most devout of fans. Although not every bout is televised, most of the 276 Bellator bouts from 2018 were viewable by the public, which could account for at least 120 or more hours of fight watching.

If one watched Bellator along with every bout in the other major promotions addressed earlier, including KSW (22 hours), One Championship (111.5 hours), PFL (61 hours), Invicta FC (29.5 hours) and Rizin (26 hours plus non-MMA bouts), that adds well over 420 additional hours to a fight fan’s viewing schedule.

Fight fans can be savvy consumers, picking and choosing the events and bouts they wish to see. It may be unreasonable to assume that almost any fight fan would sit through that much combat sports, but at 657-plus hours of fights from every major organization, or 27 days and nine hours, it is possible.

Kicking Around on a Piece of Ground in your Home Town

According to Sports Illustrated, an average MLB game takes about three hours and five minutes to complete. If an Atlanta Braves fan watched their team play every game of the 162-game season, they would spend just under 500 hours watching baseball, not including any playoffs or spring training. The average length of an NFL game, as stated by Forbes, is about three hours and seven minutes. If an Atlanta Falcons fan were to watch all 16 of their team’s games, not counting playoffs or preseason, it would total just under 50 hours.

An average NHL game takes about two hours and 19 minutes, courtesy of Livestrong, so an Atlanta Thrashers-turned Winnipeg Jets fan would spend about 190 hours watching their team in a given season. Finally, the NBA itself stated that games average about two hours and 15 minutes, thus leading Atlanta Hawks fans to tally upwards of 184.5 hours watching their team play an entire season.

In the unlikely event that the most diehard Atlanta sports fan managed to cram all of that sports watching into their life, it would take roughly 924.5 hours, or 38 and a half days. Comparatively, watching every UFC fight in 2018 would account for more time than watching a single team’s season in the NFL along with one in the NBA combined.

Waiting for Someone or Something to Show You the Way

The scheduling of the UFC is such that a majority of the company’s events fall on Saturdays. While a few in 2018 were seen early in the morning stateside due to their taking place internationally, the overwhelming majority took place on Saturday nights. Of the 52 Saturdays in 2018, only 20 were free of UFC events. If a fight fan also watched every Bellator event as well, three additional Saturdays would be claimed watching those events plus some overlap from competing events. Put together, UFC or Bellator took place in over two thirds of the Saturdays in 2018.

All told, watching the UFC is much like fandom of any other major sports league, only the UFC represents just a portion of the entirety of MMA. It is magnified to a greater degree, however, due to the UFC remaining heavily reliant on the PPV model compared to those other major sports leagues. Absent the enormous cost of 12 PPV events, the price tag of UFC fandom would clock in only around $179.76, which is comparable to those other leagues. While inarguably the largest promotion worldwide, in order to be a comprehensive UFC fan watching every single event, it takes an immense amount of time (237 hours) and money ($959.64.) Advertisement


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