UFC to stay on BT Sport after MMA brand breaks contract with Eleven Sports

  • Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to remain on BT Sport in the UK, after Eleven Sports fail to secure a carriage partner.
  • Eleven Sports tells CNBC it is still optimistic its UK operation will continue; despite reports it faced closure after just four months.
  • Top Italian and Spanish soccer leagues are currently broadcast exclusively on Eleven Sports in the UK.
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images
UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor

Sports streaming service Eleven Sports has told CNBC that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has activated a clause to pull out of a broadcasting deal, due to begin in January.

The decision follows reports in British media this week that Eleven Sports is facing closure after just four months.

A source close to the deal had previously told CNBC that if Eleven Sports failed to secure a partnership with a TV distribution service, the UFC would look elsewhere.

BT Sport had been the existing UFC broadcaster in the UK and it announced on Friday, that it had reached a fresh agreement with the mixed martial arts (MMA) organization.

Andy Haworth, managing director of strategy and content in BT Consumer, welcomed the partnership's renewal.

"BT Sport and UFC have been partners since our launch in 2013, and we're delighted this will now continue," he said.

Eleven Sports entrance into the UK market began in August this year, when it became the exclusive rights-holder for top European soccer leagues for Serie A in Italy and Spain's La Liga, claiming the rights from BT Sport and Sky respectively.

It had been the goal of Eleven Sports, which was founded by English soccer team owner Andrea Radrizzani, to partner with incumbent UK distributors, but the source confirmed to CNBC that this had not happened.

Eleven has been offering sports fans a pricing plan of £5.99 ($7.50) per month in the UK for its OTT (Over The Top) offering, targeting a younger audience.

Over-the-top content (OTT) broadcasters deliver audio, video, and other media content over the internet without the involvement of a television system operator in the control or distribution of the content.

Earlier this week, Eleven Sports released a statement to CNBC pointing challenges posed by piracy, adding that "the current market dynamics in the UK and Ireland are (making it) very hostile for new entrants."

However, Eleven Sports said it had been having positive discussions with rights holders to the Spanish and Italian soccer leagues, La Liga and IMG. These negotiations are believed to be about how existing agreements can be restructured in order to continue its current OTT service.

It's thought that one potential outcome would be for Eleven Sports to relinquish its exclusive rights across all platforms for soccer leagues. It would then renegotiate with partners to retain exclusive online rights for its existing UK output.

Despite the problems Eleven Sports is facing in the UK the company has been enjoying more success in other territories, even elsewhere in Europe. It is now a profitable brand in Poland, where it is the primary broadcaster of Formula One and in Belgium, where it has established deals to show U.S. basketball and American Football.