Eric Winter talks UFC Fight Pass; says ‘Looking for a Fight’ will return and more

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On Saturday I sat down with Senior Vice President and General Manager of UFC Fight Pass Eric Winter to discuss how he came to get into MMA and his plans and desires for the future of UFC Fight Pass

Eric Winter has been involved in MMA for a lot longer than most people realise. He was instrumental in bringing the UFC to DirecTV all the way back in 2001 or “back when Dana and myself had hair” as he puts it and it didn’t take long for combat sports to become an integral part of their PPV offerings.

When Winter found himself at the helm of rights acquisition for Yahoo Sports his first phone call was to Dana White and the UFC “In March 2008 we had the first global streaming product for the UFC. At Yahoo globally we were producing all UFC pay-per views live around the world” That partnership began in March 2008 and it sowed the seeds of what was to come both for the UFC and Winter. While that partnership was dissolved after five years, Winter had made a big difference to the UFC, even from the outside.

Even when Winter moved to Rivals.com, a website focusing on American college sports, he still crossed paths with the UFC brass as both of Lorenzo Fertitta’s sons participated in Rivals programmes and embarked on successful college sports careers.

Winter is now enjoying the freedom that working at a smaller company provides, with less bureaucracy and red-tape. “For me, it’s comfortable. My wife asked, is it more or less stressful. I came from Rivals were I was running a company of 360 people. It is ninety per cent paperwork. I lost the ability to be creative.”

Winter has had to make some sacrifices along the way though “I commute to Vegas for my role. It is very hard, it is difficult for my kids but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity. It is challenge from a family perspective but I have a very supporting wife.”

While there will always be criticisms of Fight Pass, Winter chooses to praise the foresight shown by the UFC “They had all these video assets and they said let’s take it, let’s drop it into a repository and turn the lights. That is a completely different way to conceive of and launch a technical product”

Winter knows that the hard core MMA fans have high expectations for this product but he thinks he can please them “Customers expect to have the highest quality product in the world, like a Netflix. There have been kinks along the way, the search functionality isn’t as perfect as it should be, as it has to be, but the live streaming product is phenomenal. Unfortunately for us Strikeforce didn’t videotape everything; we may not have every Luke Rockhold fight. Small hiccups like that along the way, but the most passionate and vocal fans, they expect to see everything on there because they have seen every event. It is my job to deliver that. We have heard those fans and we are working to re-launch our product in the first quarter in 2016 and there is nothing I am more proud of than the hard work going on behind the scenes on that.”

Winter recognizes that the UFC must stay ahead of the curve if they are to have continued success “If you notice a degradation in sales you need to pivot your business, Blockbuster didn’t pivot their business quick enough and now they are out of business” but that does not mean that the UFC is willing to abandon PPV for its video streaming platform like the WWE has, at least not yet “We have a growing PPV business globally; we have broadcast deals in over 150 countries. We would harm our own business if we went all in on UFC Fight Pass”

Back in June 2014 when Invicta FC was added to UFC Fight Pass Dana White hinted at the possibility of some non-MMA combat sports coming to Fight Pass but Winter isn’t looking that far ahead right now “Right now our sole focus is building the world’s biggest MMA library, once we feel that we are done we will start considering the individual arms of MMA. There are a lot of opportunities out there but we want to ensure we have MMA finished”

One of the main ways that Fight Pass is building up their collection of MMA content is the addition of other promotions from all over the world. Aside from the aforementioned Invicta, Fight Pass now broadcasts events from Shooto Brazil, Titan FC, Eurasian Fight Nights, Pancrase and Brace, the Australian promotion which is the latest addition “Fight Pass has customers from 160 countries around the world. We would be doing them a disservice if we didn’t partner with the best regional promotions”

Not only does this cater to audiences all around the world but Winter sees these partnerships as vital for the future of the UFC “There is also athlete development, the most important aspect of MMA. If you don’t have the talent you are in a whole word of trouble. We have ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, Dana White’s ‘Looking for a Fight’ and now doing a deal for live events we get to see fighters we may not have seen otherwise. Last night we live streamed EFN St. Petersburg. While the fighters may not be on the level of UFC, there will always be one or two fighters who have a chance to go to the next level. That is what it is about for us.”

Speaking of Dana White’s ‘Looking for a Fight’, Winter says that we should expect to see more of that in the future “It is not do we do it, it’s how many episodes do we do and how does it get distributed. Those are questions that are still being determined right now”

While on the subject of new original content for Fight Pass, Winter held a fan symposium in Dublin over the weekend and he heard the fans pleas for more and he plans to deliver. “We premiered a new series called “Where Are They Now?” where we are looking at old TUF contestants. It will be minimum of seven minutes and hopefully fifteen minute episodes. We are still as a team deciding whether to release it all it once or once a week. I showed a rough cut yesterday and I had the fans in the palm of my hand. I almost cut that segment out as I was so nervous but I am glad I didn’t. It validates all of the original programming idea we are coming up with behind the scenes”

The sheer quantity of content available on Fight Pass is astounding and it is only going to grow and grow “Right now we have 9,000 video assets in our library and we are adding 250 new videos a week. In 10 months we will have double the amount of video content than we have now.”

Winter sees live fights as the key to gaining customers “It doesn’t matter where you are, you will stop and watch a fight. We are focused on live events, people will subscribe because of fights but why they stay is a different story. Our job is to retain as many customers as possible through quality technology, original content and world class customer service.”

With all of this he still isn’t satisfied, Winter’s ambition is boundless “Nothing is going to be good enough until every person in the world is Fight Pass subscriber and I know that’s not possible. We will never be happy but I am proud of what we have accomplished with such a small amount of time and resources”

It would have been remiss of me to let him go without getting his thoughts on Ireland and straight away he expressed his love for Ireland’s most well-known export “The first thing I did when I got to the hotel was have a pint of Guinness. In America we put too much hops in the beer and it makes me bloated but when I come here to Ireland I can drink Guinness like nobody’s business, it goes down like chocolate milk. I love it here. I can’t wait for the fights to be over tonight so I can have more Guinness.” Although the Irish accents can still give him a little trouble “I understand 90% of what is said and the other 10% I just nod yes.”

From speaking with Eric Winter I came away very excited for what the future holds for UFC Fight Pass. With a man so passionate and enthusiastic about the business the possibilities are endless and I look forward to seeing what is to come.