When UFC Fight Pass was first announced in late 2013 and then debuted a few months later, there was a lot of speculation going around about how much it would really offer to fans, aside from what the fans previously got for free through YouTube and via websites that ripped the UFC’s content illegally.
The UFC, naturally, frowned upon the illegal content that was pirated and made available online, and the organization was starting to crack down on that behavior. Meanwhile, the whole idea behind Fight Pass was that fans wouldn’t have to dig for those avenues. Instead, they would pay just $10 a month for a legal form of access.
So, what has Fight Pass delivered, both good and not so good, to fans over these last two years? Has the digital subscription network evolved into a much more reliable product that has started delivering better quality content?
What Fight Pass promised to deliver from the outset was content from the UFC’s 20-plus year history of fights, past live events, original TV shows such as The Ultimate Fighter, and so on. This was initially a work in development, as all the content had to be uploaded onto the platform, a task which took some time. Eventually, when it was all completed, it was a nice feature for fans that loved to watch old footage, especially those really hardcore fans that liked to relive the UFC of the old days with Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, Kimo Leopoldo, Ken Shamrock and all the greats from the ’90s.
The other big thing fans wanted was to have access to watch events live and/or on demand as soon as possible. It wasn’t that simple, though. People probably knew — though they were hoping otherwise — that they wouldn’t get pay-per-views for the $10 fee they paid for Fight Pass, because those were purchased for at least $39.99 per event, a price that has gone up in recent years. Furthermore, the blackout restrictions in the United States for events shown on live TV means that the only viewers allowed to use Fight Pass for non-pay-per-view events are the paying customers overseas. The way it works right now, every single cable TV and pay-per-view event gets shown on Fight Pass about a month after it originally airs. The events shown exclusively on Fight Pass, however, are available for on-demand replay after the event is complete. These restrictions certainly weren’t part of how fans would prefer the perfect platform to be.
During the initial 15 months Fight Pass was in existence, the UFC would mostly broadcast bouts between fighters that were more or less unknown and still gaining relevancy in the organization. Fight Pass was used as a way to show fans these fighters on what was billed the “Fight Pass Prelims,” which would consist of about two to three fights before the airing of the preliminary bouts on TV. Slowly, as the Fight Pass brand became more well known, it began showing better and better fights. In June 2015, for the first time ever, Fight Pass viewers were treated to a full card of fights, including a title bout between women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk and challenger Jessica Penne, which served as the main event in Berlin, Germany. This offering was seen as pretty historic, since most title fights are contested on pay-per-view cards.
Now, just over a year after the women’s strawweight title fight took place on the UFC’s online platform, Fight Pass will hold its second-ever Fight Pass card with a title bout as its main event when lightweight kingpin Rafael dos Anjos takes on Eddie Alvarez on July 7 in Las Vegas. Recently, the platform has even started airing fights with relatively big names as featured bouts for the “Fight Pass Prelims.” While it must feel like a downgrade for fighters that are used to competing higher on the card, at least their fights aren’t overshadowed by bigger names on the preliminary bouts on TV.
UFC Fight Pass has really come a long way. From showing old fights and original programming on demand, to relatively unknown fighters on live events, to fight cards with title fights as the main event, to really popular fighters on live events, things are much different than they were just over two years ago. The platform is definitely making great strides forward to deliver what fans want. Is it perfect? No. Are there things that could be changed and improved? Sure. MMA fans can be really demanding bunch, but, for 10 bucks a month, they can’t really ask for much more.
As a longtime subscriber to UFC Fight Pass, basically signing up as soon as the platform launched in March 2014, where I watched an event headlined by Alexander Gustafsson and Jimi Manuwa in London, I can certainly say that I’m happy with what I get as far as content and the quality that is delivered. You won’t hear any major complaints here.
Going forward, the UFC just needs to continue delivering must-see fights on a consistent basis, which is something the company is accomplishing with its featured bouts and the addition of title fights as main events on Fight Pass offerings.
It took the UFC a while to get to where it is now with the digital subscription network. It’s good to see so much progress, and it will help the UFC to gain more subscribers in the long run. That’s enough to consider this a mission accomplished for the biggest MMA organization in the world.