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ESPN Plus strikes $750-million deal with UFC for 15 fight cards a year

UFC announced a partnership Tuesday with ESPN Plus, the new subscription, direct-to-consumer streaming service, that will offer up to 15 "Fight Night" cards per year and bring the organization $750 million over five years.

Beverly Hills talent agency WME/IMG purchased the UFC in 2016 for $4 billion, hinging its price to the potential ability to maximize television investment.

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This portion of a UFC television package, with fights to begin on ESPN Plus in January, will bring in $150 million annually. The UFC's expiring deal with Fox that began in 2012 netted $100 million per year.

Negotiations are continuing for the broadcast rights to the remainder of the typical UFC fight schedule, which will probably include around 20 more fight cards with main events that are expected to be of higher quality.

Fox and NBC are reportedly in contention for the additional package.

"UFC on ESPN Plus Fight Night" will televise full, 12-fight cards.

ESPN Plus previously announced plans to boost combat sports coverage by aligning with boxing promoter Top Rank for fights, including the June 9 welterweight title bout between pound-for-pound No. 1 Terence Crawford and champion Jeff Horn. The network will also offer supplemental "shoulder" programming in its UFC package.

That programming will include: new seasons of "Dana White's Contender Series" beginning in June 2019; a new, original, all-access series produced by IMG Original Content; exclusive pre- and post-event shows for all 15 "UFC on ESPN Plus Fight Nights;" non-exclusive access to UFC's full archive of programming, including historic events, classic bouts and original programming; additional UFC-branded content, including "UFC Countdown" shows, press conferences, weigh-ins, and pre- and post-shows.

The ESPN Plus app, available for $4.99 per month, can be used to view UFC Fight Pass events and UFC pay-per-view events for an additional price.

"One of our goals for ESPN Plus is to bring sports fans of all genres content they love and are passionate about, and this agreement with UFC is illustrative of exactly that," said Kevin Mayer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international operations for Walt Disney Co.

"We look forward to providing UFC's enthusiastic, growing fan base with a wide array of live events and building a lasting relationship with the industry leader in mixed martial arts."

In a news release, ESPN and UFC noted that "UFC boasts the youngest fan base among major professional sports organizations in the US with a median age of 40 and an audience comprising 40% millennials."

UFC has long sought innovative ways to distribute its bouts to the widest audience, employing a deal with Roku nearly a decade ago and streaming its "Fight Pass."

UFC President Dana White said in a prepared statement, "I couldn't be more excited to partner with The Walt Disney Company and ESPN on an agreement that will continue to grow our sport.

"UFC has always done deals with the right partners at the right time and this one is no exception. We will now have the ability to deliver fights to our young fan base wherever they are and whenever they want it. This deal is a home run for ESPN and UFC."

Fox is scheduled this year to televise 15 "Fight Night" events on FS1, along with the "The Ultimate Fighter" reality television series and its two finales, while Fox will broadcast five "Fight Night" events. Additionally, 13 pay-per-view preliminaries can be seen on either FS1 or FX.

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Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire

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