In a bid to widen its audience for UFC programming, ESPN will add a half-hour weekly show, ‘UFC Live,’ that will air every Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. UFC Live, which will debut on Sept. 13, will immediately follow its ‘Max on Boxing’ show that features analyst Max Kellerman, giving ESPN2 a full hour of combat sports coverage each Friday.
The partnership between ESPN and the UFC began in January and has been a rousing success so far, executives with both companies have said.
“The partnership with ESPN has been amazing and in just eight months has skyrocketed our business,” UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports. “We are breaking records left and right. Another TV show on the network is only going to help even more and give UFC fans more incredible content.”
From ESPN’s standpoint, it is looking to increase its audience and is using the UFC to reach a demographic that can be difficult to get. ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro has made that a company priority.
The UFC is tremendously strong among 18-to-34-year-old males, a demographic all broadcasters are desperate to reach.
“We are absolutely in build mode with the UFC,” said Matt Kenny, ESPN’s vice president of programming for combat sports. “Jimmy and ESPN’s executive leadership team couldn’t have been more clear about the fact that one of our goals is audience expansion. The role the UFC could play in that pursuit couldn’t be more clear.
“So when the opportunity became available with us on a linear [television] window on a consistent basis as we head into the fall, it was really a no-brainer for us to take advantage of that to continue to grow the sport and grow our partnership with the UFC.”
Glenn Jacobs, the vice president of production for MMA at ESPN, echoed Kenny’s words and said the goal is to reach more people to widen the audience. The show will be more of a pre-fight show that will focus on the upcoming event.
Given it will debut before the hotly anticipated UFC Vancouver card that features Justin Gaethje versus Donald Cerrone in the main event, that card will be the focus of the debut of UFC Live.
It will be a traveling show which will be on site at the location of each UFC card. It will include fight breakdowns and analysis, feature stories on the fighters and previews.
“You’ll see everything that will create the best storylines around the best fighters around the upcoming card for that weekend,” Jacobs said.
ESPN’s commitment to the UFC is evidenced by the sheer volume of shows it has created since the partnership began in January. In addition to UFC Live, it has added such on all of its platforms, including television, online and social.
Ariel Helwani is a big part of that. He already hosts “Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show,” as well as “Ariel & The Bad Guy,” with Chael Sonnen. He’s beginning a show called, “The People’s MMA Show” on Facebook. UFC Live will be the 14th show ESPN has added on its various platforms since January.
Kenny insisted that this wasn’t coming at the expense of boxing. ESPN has a partnership with Top Rank for its boxing content.
“Given that ‘UFC Live’ will follow ‘Max on Boxing,’ if you think about the hour, you’ll have a combat sports hour that is truly meant to be complementary,” he said. “It’s meant to create the environment and reinforce the message that ESPN and ESPN platforms are the home for combat sports. During that hour, there is going to be a lot of content and a lot of messaging driving toward, for example next week, the [Tyson] Fury-[Otto] Wallin [boxing] fight as well as Cowboy and Gaethje at UFC Vancouver.”
The Fury-Wallin fight is on ESPN+ on Saturday from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.