The march to the 2 million subscribers milestone for ESPN+, announced yesterday by Bob Iger on Disney’s earnings call, was spurred in part by the launch of UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ on Jan. 19. ESPN+ added 568,000 new fans with the launch on that weekend. It was the result of months of planning focused on answering the question: “How can we utilize all the unparalleled assets of ESPN, DTCI (Disney’s Direct-To-Consumer & International) and DSS (Disney Streaming Services) to maximize this ‘You only have one shot at a launch’ opportunity’?”
The preparation for Jan. 19 started September 2018 at a daylong planning summit in Bristol, Conn. Teams from UFC, ESPN, DTCI, and DSS met for a collegial, creative and – ultimately — extremely effective session that kicked off months of collaboration resulting in a record-setting night, results that measurably reinforce the power of the ESPN brand.
In some respects, Disney and ESPN had been working towards this moment for years: building two of the world’s most advanced digital production centers — DC-1 and DC-2 in Bristol; acquiring a majority ownership in BAMTech; aggressively investing in new properties like UFC and its passionate fan base to help catapult the Company’s direct-to-consumer strategy; rallying all the vast corners of the ESPN and DTCI organizations; and then showing what it all can mean, powerfully, in one weekend.
This is how it happened:
BUILDING UFC FIGHT NIGHT on ESPN+
UFC, ESPN, DTCI, and DSS meet on ESPN’s campus for first-ever summit in Bristol, Conn. The daylong planning session kicks off the five-year partnership.
UFC, ESPN, DTCI, and DSS hold meetings to brainstorm and hone the launch plan.
ESPN provides extensive coverage of UFC 229: Khabib versus McGregor.
Actor John Malkovich narrates this UFC 229 promo that debuted on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter.
ESPN App Update and MMA FightCenter
DSS and DTCI Technology release enhancements to the ESPN+ streaming service and the ESPN App: enhanced navigation, upgraded personalized content recommendations, offline viewing and an expansion of platforms to access programming. The new MMA FightCenter features timely updates, statistics and data for all bouts during UFC events, fighter profile cards and live strike-by-strike damage animations.
1/15, 1/16/2019 ESPN MMA’s Production Team presents UFC 101 Seminars in Bristol, Conn.
White visits ESPN’s new Seaport District studios for appearances on various programs, including First Take with Molly Qerim.
Coverage kicks off with Official Weigh-Ins; White appears at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for the Ceremonial Weigh-Ins.
ESPN+ provides unique coverage of Virginia-Duke college basketball, UFC Fight Night
ESPN cross-promotes its multi-platform coverage of UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ on College GameDay and coverage of the Virginia-Duke ACC men’s basketball showdown. The alternate viewing experience during the game showcased the Player Iso Cam and helped to bring more fans to ESPN+ the night of the fight.
NBA Countdown touts UFC before Thunder at Sixers on ABC at 3:30 p.m.
The 10 p.m. SportsCenter leads off with coverage of UFC Fight Night On ESPN+ Prelims with analysis from Ariel Helwani and Chael Sonnen.
ESPN+ has more than 200 hours of on-demand UFC content on the ESPN App
ESPN networks promoted ESPN+ and UFC throughout the day.
ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC were the three most-social networks on Jan. 19, generating 17X more combined interactions across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter than the closest competitor.
#UFCBrooklyn leads to a record-setting night with 568,000 new signups for ESPN+ on Friday and Saturday combined – more than 525,000 Saturday alone – the largest event and subscription driver ever.
1/21/2019: A Job Well Done
ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro shared his enthusiasm on the UFC launch with a note to employees. Here is a shortened version of his thoughts:
“This past Saturday, the unparalleled power of ESPN’s all-encompassing platforms – and our exceptional people – was on full display as ESPN, DTCI and the UFC kicked-off their five-year relationship with a record-smashing night.
“The 13 fights on UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ led to 568,000 new subscribers for ESPN+ on Friday and Saturday combined, with more than 525,000 on Saturday alone.
“We served a wide array of sports fans, with nearly 5.1 million unique users consuming MMA-related digital content across ESPN digital platforms over the Saturday and Sunday period. And the 1.4 overnight rating on ESPN was the largest for a UFC prelims fight card on cable since 2013!
“This kind of success emphatically demonstrates that the ESPN Platform is unlike any other, and that live sports can aggregate a large audience like no other genre. It’s why rights holders like the UFC embrace the advantage of our company’s leading multiple platforms and promotion. It’s why advertisers turn to ESPN – because they know their messages will break through. In an environment with more options in more mediums, viewers are drawn to live, compelling content like the UFC. And that matters.”
Ardi Dwornik, Santa Brito, Kevin Ota, Paul Melvin, Amy Phillips, Rich Arden and Emily Archacki contributed to this post.