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ESPN+ subscriber numbers are dropping again ahead of negotiations over the UFC broadcast deal
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ESPN+ subscriber numbers are dropping again ahead of negotiations over the UFC broadcast deal

The UFC will begin negotiations on a new broadcast rights deal later in 2024, but the promotion’s current partners at ESPN continue to face challenges in the ever-changing sports consumption marketplace.

For the second consecutive quarter in a row and the third of the past four quarters overall, ESPN+ lost subscribers, which is primarily where the UFC thrives, especially through the pay-per-view business that runs on the streaming service. The number of subscribers fell by two percent in the second quarter of 2024, bringing the total number of subscriptions to 24.8 million.

That’s about the same number of subscribers ESPN+ was touting in early 2023.

ESPN+ also reported an operating loss of $65 million for the quarter.

As for why ESPN+ subscriptions are down, Disney pointed to the usual churn that often occurs at the end of a sports season — this time because college and pro football both end late in the summer of 2024. While these claims might be true could be , ESPN+ was steadily rising with more than five years of growth for the streaming service.

On a happier note, Disney reported that ESPN had overall success in the ratings during the month of April, including the conclusion of the NCAA women’s basketball championship. April also marked the highest ratings ever for a UFC pre-broadcast after UFC 300 earned a record number of viewers.

Of course, Disney CEO Bob Iger has talked a lot in recent years about plans to transition ESPN into a more digitally driven company rather than linear television, including launching a direct-to-consumer streaming platform in 2025. Disney is also into plans to launch a sports streaming service with Warner Bros. Discovery and FOX in late 2024.

“I see the sport basically continuing to shine in a world where there’s just significantly more choice,” Iger said during an earnings call with investors on Tuesday. “The other thing that’s really important is the engagement that life generates. I mentioned it in my comments, which we haven’t really talked about much yet, and I think a lot of attention has been on the (joint venture) that we announced, as well as the flagship, which will be direct to ESPN at the end of this year takes over. (2025), but at the end of this year we’re going to put an ESPN Tile on Disney+, which will have a modest amount of programming, but it’s a start in terms of actually conditioning Disney+ and Hulu subscribers that sports will be popular there .

“Looking ahead, I think ESPN will make a pivot to digital, but without giving up linear. It will remain linear if people want to get ESPN and its various channels through a cable or satellite subscription, that’s fine or if they want to run smoothly because there will be many different access points to get the digital product to ESPN digital. They can do that as part of a bundle with other sports services, they can do it directly from ESPN with the ESPN app or they can do it as part of a bundle with our own services. So I’m very optimistic about it.”

In addition to the UFC broadcast rights, ESPN also has a separate negotiation with the NBA, which is expected to be a fairly expensive package that could be spread across numerous networks.

It remains to be seen how this latest decline in subscribers could potentially affect the UFC when it comes time to negotiate a new broadcast rights deal, but those talks are expected to begin before the end of the year. The UFC’s overall deal with ESPN runs through 2025.