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On ESPN+ and ESPN2: Professional Fighters League Brings MMA Action To Thursday Nights

VP, Programming & Acquisitions, Matt Kenny, on what makes PFL distinctive and appealing to combat sports fans and ESPN

With a unique competition format – presenting MMA fights through a regular season, playoffs and championship rounds – the Professional Fighters League (PFL) will be on full display across ESPN platforms – including ESPN+ and ESPN2 – when the league debuts tonight (schedule discussed below).

The 2019 season will feature 72 fighters in six different divisions, all vying for a chance to be crowned PFL World Champion in their weight class and earn a million-dollar payout at the PFL 2019 Championship on New Year’s Eve.

Front Row caught up with VP, Programming & Acquisitions, Matt Kenny, to ask about the addition of PFL to ESPN’s extensive combat sports roster.

Why is the PFL important for ESPN?
Combat sports is uniquely positioned to support and drive each of ESPN’s company priorities: Direct-to-Consumer, Audience Expansion, Quality Storytelling and Programming, and Innovation. Our new relationship with PFL enhances the company’s efforts to serve combat sports fans. Through this deal, we will have the ability to offer fans more than 100 world-class matchups across ESPN+ and other ESPN platforms each season, provide exclusive pre- and post shows exclusively on ESPN+, and showcase more than a half dozen other original programs.

Matt Kenny
(Melissa Rawlins/ESPN Images)

What are you most excited about from this relationship?
PFL has a distinctive competition structure. The playoff format is particularly exciting as athletes must compete and win twice in the same night to advance. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the PFL Championship will reward both fans and fighters with high-stakes action.

Can you speak to some of the compelling stories and content fans can expect for PFL 1?
Powerful storytelling is at the heart of everything ESPN does and will certainly play an important role in how we showcase PFL across ESPN platforms. Our approach to building anticipation will be centered around taking fans behind the scenes by shining a light on the fighters’ journey – who the fighters are, how they got to where they are, how they train, etc. – to create a personal connection with the fans.

For PFL1, ESPN.com writer Myron Medcalf spent time with Kayla Harrison at her gym in Florida to give fans a preview of how the two-time U.S. Olympic Judo gold medalist prepares to headline the debut of the Women’s Lightweight Division.

We also will develop content to elevate the awareness of PFL among casual fans, including a video feature from [ESPN MMA analyst] Ariel Helwani [see video above] explaining the PFL’s format.

On fight night at PFL 1 at NYCB Live in Uniondale, N.Y., coverage will start at 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+ with five fights from the men’s welterweight and women’s lightweight divisions. We’ll then shift to ESPN2 at 9 p.m., with five additional fights.

And a really cool feature that fans can expect is the first-of-its-kind data and stats integration into the broadcast created by PFL’s SmartCage technology, which squarely hits our company’s Innovation priority.

ESPN.com: What you need to know about the PFL

Kevin Ota and Ardi Dwornik contributed to this post.

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