The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion in the world.
It is based in the United States and as a result, the majority of its events take place there, meaning that fans in Europe face having to stay awake all night if they are to watch live UFC events.
Since 2013, this has been possible for subscribers to BT Sport, who have enjoyed all live shows as part of their regular subscriptions. However, that all changed on Saturday night with UFC 239, which BT Sport recently decided shouldn’t be included in customers’ packages after all.
Instead, people were told they’d have to pay out an extra £19.95 to view the admittedly-stacked card on BT Sport Box Office, a decision that went down like a lead balloon with fans, especially those who’d taken out a subscription solely for UFC events.
In the weeks leading up to the fight, there were long discussion threads on various forums (including BT Sport’s own) complaining about the move and suggesting a boycott.
Whether this took place at scale on Sunday morning UK/Ireland time isn’t yet known but fan outrage was clear to see on social media, including in a poll conducted by MMA reporter Niall McGrath.
Of course, a boycott of PPV buying doesn’t necessarily mean a boycott on watching the event. Indeed, if fans’ claims leading up to the event were anything to go by, many would be hitting the pirate high seas Saturday/Sunday to express their displeasure at BT Sport’s decision.
Since live events are mainly streamed from ‘pirate’ websites, obtaining viewing figures is not as easy as tracking users in torrent swarms, for example. However, we spoke to a seller of ‘pirate’ IPTV services before and after the event to see if there had been any greater uptake than usual.
“No more orders than we usually get on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday but more people definitely asked if we could get BT Sport Box Office for the fights. We couldn’t promise that channel in advance but we have others that give the same thing. Good enough,” the seller explained.
A long thread on Reddit, which appeared after the fights finished on Sunday, patted everyone on the back who took part in the boycott. As expected, it’s littered with comments about BT Sport screwing over dedicated fans and, of course, people turning to piracy.
“It literally took me 40 seconds on my first duckduckgo search (because google censors a lot of this kind of stuff) to find a site where I was able to watch the entire event live in HD with no interruptions. Hard for a pathetic business model to compete with that,” one commenter wrote.
“Cancelled my bt sports and got an IPTV set up,” said another. “Probably the smoothest viewing experience I’ve had watching any UFC event. No commercials and no cutting the sound on interviews every time someone swears.”
And then things descended to the bottom, quickly.
With another fan declaring that this is the first time “in years” he’d pirated an event, the discussions continued with how that’s possible, where to do it, and the inevitable private messages where one can only guess at the content but draw an obvious conclusion. And this isn’t even a piracy-focused sub-Reddit, it’s /r/mma with close to 780K members.
While people will rightly point that this is a mere subset of BT Sport’s customers not paying an extra £19.95, the people who turned to a pirate IPTV service on Saturday/Sunday will have immediately discovered that ALL of BT Sport’s live content is also available for less than £10 per month.
If pirate IPTV gains traction with them (and their friends, and their friends’ friends), £30 to £40 per month regular subscriptions to BT Sports could get boycotted too, along with those paid to Sky Sports and other companies.
Bloody Elbow’s piece on why BT Sport’s decision to go PPV with UFC 239 was wrong really hits the spot but only time will tell if the PPV model in the UK will persist – or if it will go down with a huge headache quicker than previously undefeated Ben Askren did during the red-eye hours of Sunday morning.