UFC 246: ESPN Stays Mobile for Week-Long Pre-Fight Coverage From Vegas

Multiple sets traverse the Strip with help of TVU bonded-cellular transmission

Although ESPN+’s exclusive streaming of the UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cowboy PPV won’t begin until Saturday night, the ESPN production team has been a fixture on the Las Vegas Strip for the better part of a week. With superstar Conor McGregor’s return after a 15-month layoff generating plenty of interest, ESPN is producing more than 30 hours of content this week from throughout the Strip for its cavalcade of linear and digital platforms.

ESPN is producing live studio content leading up to UFC 246. Photo: Ray Rodriguez

“We’re approaching this as essentially our Super Bowl of UFC coverage,” says Charlie Moynihan, Bureau producer, ESPN. “We got here on Monday and will be [producing content] right through Sunday morning. UFC on ESPN+ is obviously a big initiative for the company, so we are going all out. If you’re a hardcore UFC fan or a casual fan, you can turn on any ESPN entity this week and see compelling content coming out of Vegas on digital, social, and linear.”

Staying Flexible: ESPN Sets Rely on TVU, Public Internet
ESPN has been shifting three sets — two full ones and a smaller bistro set — among different locations across Las Vegas this week, including T-Mobile Arena, the Park Theater, Beer Park at The Paris, Palms Casino, Caesars Palace, and the newly opened UFC Apex. Instead of deploying production trucks and satellite uplinks, Moynihan and his crew of roughly 40 are using a combination of TVU bonded-cellular backpacks and public internet Ethernet connections to backhaul content from a variety of locations.

ESPN is using TVU bonded-cellular backpacks and public internet Ethernet connections to backhaul content from three roving sets in Las Vegas. Photo: Ray Rodriguez

“This is essentially a REMI [production] with no trucks at all,” says Moynihan. “We drop a couple of Ethernet lines or transmit via TVU [bonded cellular] depending on the location. There has been more technology change the last five years than the previous 20, so we’re trying to take advantage of that and be as cost-efficient as possible.”

Live From the Strip: A Full Week of UFC 246 Content
ESPN’s firehose of content from Vegas began on Wednesday with Ariel & the Bad Guy (featuring Ariel Helwani and Chael Sonnen, breaking down UFC 246) live at Caesars Place and live coverage of the UFC 246 press conference from UFC Apex – both streaming on ESPN+. Ariel & the Bad Guy also featured coverage from the Official Weigh-in earlier today and, tonight, the UFC 246 Pre-Show (7:30 p.m. ET) will stream on ESPN+ from the Pearl Theater at Palms Casino.

Ariel & the Bad Guy, featuring Ariel Helwani (left) and Chael Sonnen, streamed live from Caesars Palace on ESPN+ on Wednesday and Thursday. Photo: Ray Rodriguez

On the linear-TV side, SportsCenter and the Daily Wager have featured live segments from Caesars and Beer Park since Wednesday, and Get Up! and First Take began airing segments from Vegas on Thursday. Tonight, ESPN2’s UFC Live will be produced live from the Pearl Theater at Palms Casino (5:30 p.m. ET) and SportsCenter will carry live coverage of the Ceremonial Weigh-in from the Park Theater (6 p.m. ET).

“Obviously, this is a huge fight and an electric atmosphere,” says Moynihan, “so we’re doing far more [content] than we ever have before. This is our 13th month [of the UFC partnership], and I’m blessed to be with such a hardworking crew. The biggest thing for us is being as nimble and efficient as possible. We’re in year two of a seven-year agreement [with UFC], and we’re trying to utilize technology to step up our partnership with UFC.”

Big Saturday: More Than 20 Hours of Live Coverage
On Saturday, ESPN’s various platforms will deliver more than 20 hours of content in the lead-up to and following the UFC 246 PPV. It all kicks off Saturday morning with a live-streamed show on YouTube and Twitter from Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena. At 2 p.m. ET, ESPN will shift to a set inside T-Mobile Arena’s Suite 1 for UFC Live: McGregor vs. Cowboy Pre-Show on ABC. Octagon action begins with Early Prelims on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. followed by Prelims on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 8 p.m.

Photo: Ray Rodriguez

Following the Main Card on ESPN PPV+ (beginning at 10 p.m.), ESPN+ will carry the UFC 246 Post Show while SportsCenter and other ESPN linear platforms air live segments from Vegas.

“We’re still learning, and we’re still growing,” Moynihan says of ESPN’s UFC production efforts over the past year, “but we’re very proud of what we’ve done so far. We built this from the ground up, and both UFC and ESPN have been happy thus far. We’ve done TV in Australia, in Brazil, and all over the world. And we’ve often done it simply by pulling Ethernet lines with no satellite trucks and just a few flip phones for communications. We’re just trying to be as cost-efficient as we can, while growing the product and serving the viewers with great content.”