UFC President Dana White made dozens of headlines this week when he made threats against an unnamed illegal stream provider.
During the UFC 257 pre-fight press conference, featuring main event fighters Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, White seemed excited to tell the journalists present that he had someone specific in his sights.
“We got one. We got him,” he said with a grin on his face. “We’re watching this guy right now. All you have to do is turn it on on Saturday. And we got you f****r. I can’t wait.”
In a subsequent interview with BT Sport, White went further still, declaring that he’d hand-picked the alleged pirate and that his house was being watched, his phone calls were being listened to and if he dared to put the fight up on Saturday, he would be arrested.
“I will not be nice. I will not be lenient. I will go guns-a-f*****n-blazing,” he warned.
Dana White’s Threats Riled Up Pirates
At least in part, White’s comments were designed to scare not only his target into submission but also other illegal stream suppliers and their potential customers. PPV revenue is important for the UFC and for its fighters since they too take a share of the spoils.
That being said, there can be a tendency among seasoned Internet users to convert gung-ho threats into just another motivation to pirate, so there was no shortage of people online threatening to pirate UFC 257 anyway, despite the warnings, and whether they were fans or not. However, few could have predicted how the event was to play out.
ESPN+ Goes Down Under Massive Demand
Perhaps the biggest news to emerge from the event is that UFC cash cow Conor McGregor got knocked out in round two, with Poirier’s heavy strikes on the feet proving too much for the superstar Irishman. However, as the drama was playing out in the Octagon, a streaming fiasco had already been underway for several hours.
UFC 257 was always expected to be a popular event (McGregor PPVs always are) but it appears that ESPN+ was unprepared for just how many people would cough up $70.00 to watch the fight legally in the US. According to Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole, 1.3 million people tried to log into ESPN+ at the same time and the service simply couldn’t cope.
Still nothing. Tried xbox, android, and smart tv app. pic.twitter.com/AJCrvCfIvy
— Jeff Jones (@SlowSmokeJones) January 24, 2021
Given that the UFC’s US deal is exclusive to ESPN+ this was clearly a major problem. If fans pay to watch the whole card on a legal platform, they don’t expect to face the kind of problems often touted as being a hallmark of pirate services. The disappointed masses also included several UFC fighters who headed onto Twitter to complain that they couldn’t watch the event.
Half the UFC's own roster can't get the ESPN+ app working to watch #UFC257 pic.twitter.com/TbYiQjxVXo
— MMA mania (@mmamania) January 24, 2021
Unfortunately, worse was yet to come.
Illegal Streams Save The Day For Some Paying Customers
With huge numbers of fans bombarding ESPN on Twitter complaining that they couldn’t access the event, the broadcaster said that it was doing the best it could to restore service. However, after shelling out $70.00 the desperation mounted for many fans as the anxiety of missing the action took its toll.
In a now-deleted Tweet, UFC middleweight Ian Heinisch wrote: “Okay I am done send me illegal streams!” a sentiment that was shared by thousands of other individuals including those who already paid and those who never intended to.
Meanwhile, in several of the usual haunts occupied by pirate streamers, there was no shortage of people watching the PPV illegally while ESPN+ subscribers screamed in frustration. That should never happen, quite the opposite in fact.
Dana White’s Sunday Headache
Today’s post mortem will be a difficult one for Dana White. After being ridiculed in some corners for his anti-piracy rhetoric, it seems fairly likely that some fans will have decided to take the legal option for once, a golden opportunity to shine if ever there was one.
Instead, they will have watched their pirating counterparts receive superior service at what would’ve been less than a tenth of the price, which is just about the worst possible outcome on the night. Add that to the fact that McGregor lost, and you have a UFC 257 that White won’t look back on with the fondest of memories. That being said, it wasn’t all bad news.
According to White, the unnamed illegal streamer who he threatened earlier in the week decided that taking on the UFC wasn’t a good idea. Shortly after the pre-fight press event he allegedly made a big announcement saying that he wouldn’t be offering the event after all and had decided to shut down his entire streaming service.
Somewhat ironically though (for both legal and illegal consumers alike) plenty of other unlicensed services remained up long enough to show ESPN+ how to run a streaming service – without collapsing under the stress of too many customers wanting to part with their money.