Boxing and MMA are best enjoyed live, there’s no debate about it. However, not every fan of martial arts has the time or the money to make a trip to see their favorite athletes perform. Especially not when the Coronavirus pandemic is preventing large gatherings of people.
This pandemic also did something cable television has been fearing for a decade now — shifted a lot of viewers of fight sports online instead of keeping them glued to the TV screens. Most industries that had online counterparts, in fact, suffered. Thousands of gambling fans are looking up True Blue casino reviews to play online instead of going to a local casino, and moviegoers are flocking to Netflix.
The same may be happening to the martial arts industry. But Covid-19 probably was not the only reason. Since the Logan Paul fights, it seems, watching pay-per-view translations is becoming the norm.
The Logan Paul Fights
It’s safe to say few hardcore boxing fans were impressed by the bouts of the two YouTube celebrities. Their skill is not what matters here. What matters is how many viewers were attracted to the live stream.
The second fight between Logan Paul and KSI was the most viewed fight ever streamed on DAZN with 1.2 million pay-per-view tickets sold worldwide. It also introduced a lot of these YouTubers’ fans to the world of boxing as most commented they were fascinated by the athleticism of the fighters.
Could this mean watching martial arts competitions online for a fee is the future of the sport? If you take a look at UFC, it certainly appears so.
The UFC Fight Pass
In 2019, the same year Logan Paul and KSI went for a rematch, UFC’s Dana White struck a deal with ESPN+ to stream pay-per-view events online on their platform. This partnership turned out a success as in the summer of 2020, UFC fights gathered just shy of a million US viewers with an additional half a million joining from overseas.
UFC 257 with the main fight being McGregor vs Poirier rematch gathered a record-breaking 1.6 million crowd. But pay-per-view events are not the only source of revenue for UFC. Starting from 2013, the company has launched UFC Fight Pass, a Netflix-like streaming service that grants access to past UFC events and some sports documentaries.
Currently, it has over 250,000 subscribers, and at a $100 per year fee, it’s bringing huge revenue to the company. Dana White even announced he’s going after illegal streamers to fight for lost revenue — not that you’d not expect that from the UFC president.
Smaller MMA leagues like Bellator are also leaning heavily into pay-per-view events. The viewership numbers are a lot smaller than what you can see in a UFC event, though, ranging from around 200,000 ticket buys.
The world of professional boxing has been operating on a pay-per-view basis for a couple of decades. However, it was done via cable TV, not the internet. In 1995, for instance, the Tyson vs Neely fight attracted almost two million PPV viewers on cable television. With the advent of the internet, PPV buys included online streaming.
In the 2017 Mayweather vs McGregor fight, over 50 million people hopped on the live translation, mostly on TV. However, it’s estimated that almost 3 million people watched the match online illegally.
It’s clear that cable television remains the main media for most boxing fans, but online streams are gaining popularity as well.
The Future of Fight Sports Online
In 2021, online streaming of martial arts is definitely becoming more common, but it does have some challenges as well.
Thanks to advances in technology, it’s not possible to stream to millions of people without much of a lag or technical difficulties like in the Mayweather vs McGregor fight. There were so many mistakes, the streaming company even went to court and paid compensation to those who could not watch the stream.
While professional boxing is probably going to remain mostly viewed via TV, MMA championships are leading the way in online streams. Some UFC PPV events, despite the deal with ESPN, are only available on the TV network’s online streaming platform. Most smaller MMA leagues are also streaming online-only.
It’s safe to assume that Bellator and other MMA championships will be more and more popular to stream on DAZN or ESPN+ not on cable TV — both of these services are much cheaper and younger audiences don’t have a cable TV subscription anyways.
The only problem that online streaming sports leagues have to solve is illegal streams. You can’t watch a PPV cable event for free, but it’s easy to tune in to a YouTube channel streaming an online PPV event illegally. Right now, there aren’t a lot of options to fight that problem, and it seems the companies will have to eat up those losses.
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