After a successful debut, the Professional Fighters League has returned for its second season, which began on Thursday.
But the league — which is challenging the traditional format of mixed martial arts —is raising the bar this time around, thanks to a freshly inked partnership deal with Disney-owned (DIS) ESPN 2 and ESPN-Plus.
“ESPN is the worldwide leader in sports,” PFL CEO Peter Murray told Yahoo Finance in an interview earlier this week. “They are the destination for combat and MMA is [now] mainstream. It is no longer a niche sport.”
Fighters will again compete all season long in various weight classes, including the first-ever women’s lightweight division — spearheaded by 2X U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in judo, Kayla Harrison.
The champion of each division will walk away with one big paycheck — receiving a grand prize of $1 million dollars.
And with MMA gaining momentum amongst sports fans all over the world, the move to online streaming seemed like a natural next step.
“It definitely exposes the sport to a new [audience],” PFL color analyst & Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Hall of Famer Randy Couture explained.
“The folks that may not have tuned in or may not have been willing to spend 60 bucks on a pay-per-view.”
$30 million to fund the ‘next evolution’
The PFL recently closed its Series C funding round, raising $30 million to be used for technology innovation, audience growth and fighter signings.
“We lead with innovation to advance the sport — starting with the format,” Murray said. “It’s a meritocracy for these athletes, and we’ll also integrate technology as part of this experience for fans.”
Technological advances so far include the first-ever ‘SmartCage’, which will deliver real-time data and analytics to bring fans off the couch, and inside the fight.
“PFL will be a leader in the next evolution and the growth of the sport,” Murray stated. “And we’re doing it with differentiation.”
Alexandra Canal is a Producer at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @alliecanal8193