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UFC PPV Move Tests UK Fans’ Resolve

British Telecom Group on June 8 quietly announced that starting
with UFC
fans in the United Kingdom would have to purchase
Ultimate Fighting Championship
events through BT Sport Box
Office in a traditional pay-per-view format, rather than having
them included with the BT Sport channel subscription.

The social media backlash from across the pond was swift, with many
fans threatening to cancel their BT Sport package and vowing to
illegally stream the upcoming event, which features light
heavyweight champion Jon Jones
defending his title against Thiago
in the main event. Others noted that the move was
financially untenable, stating that the amount of BT Sport
subscriptions canceled would far outweigh the company’s split of
PPV buys from events going forward. However, that idea is based on
one huge assumption: that significantly more fans will protest the
move than BT Group has already anticipated.

Whenever a company decides to charge for a product or service that
was originally free or included in a bundle, it expects retaliation
from its customers. Unless there are unknown extenuating
circumstances that forced the company into making the move hastily,
data was likely gathered from existing customer surveys, market
trends and other resources over the course of several months to
support the idea of moving UFC cards to BT Sport Box Office. While
the exact price point and details of how the pay-per-view revenue
will be split between BT Group, the UFC and any other parties
involved are not yet known, it can be assured that the UK telecom
giant has a threshold of cancellations that would have to be
crossed for it to even consider reverting to the old format.

There are a number of factors working against the fans, as well.
Long before the ESPN+ deal was in place, fans in North America had
to subscribe to a cable, Internet or satellite provider and
purchase UFC pay-per-view events on an ad-hoc basis. Requiring BT
subscribers to do the same for a significantly lower cost — right
now it’s estimated the event will cost £19.95 or roughly $25 —
isn’t unfathomable, especially since the company doesn’t require a
customer to subscribe to the £10-a-month add-on of BT Sport to
place the order of the pay-per-view event. While many MMA fans also
claim they only subscribe to the sports package add-on for the UFC
BT Sport also holds exclusive live rights to other popular content
such as the UEFA champions league
, preventing many customers
from canceling the service regardless of what happens with the UFC
moving forward.

That being said, all hope is not lost for those who wish to protest
the change. Part of the reason UFC PPV events were originally
included in the BT Sport subscription at no extra cost was due to
the fact that the majority of main event cards start around 3 a.m.
local time. Despite the ESPN era pushing UFC Fight Night cards to
an earlier start, pay-per-view events have been largely unaffected
by the new broadcast deal, and many fans will see the price
increase as a reason to turn in for the night rather than power
through a card that may not finish until the sun rises. With any
price increase, there is also a set number of customers who have
already reached their spending limit and simply cannot afford to
purchase the new service.

Even if the BT Sport cancellation numbers are in line with what the
telecom giant is projecting, should enough fans refuse to purchase
UFC pay-per-views, BT Group will be put in a position to reconsider
the new offering. Outside of the reasons already mentioned, piracy
and illegal streams encourage less scrupulous viewers to boycott
buying the card in favor of watching it at no cost. Streaming an
event also becomes much easier the day after the card takes place,
so it wouldn’t be a stretch for disgruntled customers to go to
sleep after the prelims have ended and find a way to watch the PPV
portion the following day for free. The switch to a more
traditional PPV format was ultimately made to increase revenue, and
if the returns aren’t worth the image hit or hassle of dealing with
angry subscribers who are canceling their service and finding ways
to watch the content regardless, it may be of more value to the
company to put all UFC cards back on BT Sport.

In the end, whether or not UFC cards will remain for purchase
through BT Sport Box Office or be put back into the BT Sport
package will most likely be decided in a game of chicken between
fans in the UK and BT Group. Who will blink first?

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