Cocaine Scandal Led to ESPN’s Blockbuster Deal with the UFC

UFC President Dana White believes he knows the reason why his organization landed a monster deal with ESPN, and that reason is cocaine.

White contends that former ESPN boss John Skipper did not want to enter into a business relationship with the UFC. However, after Skipper resigned from ESPN following a cocaine scandal, the window to a deal opened up.

“I’ll tell you a crazy story,” White told Grant Cardone. “You ever hear of John Skipper? John Skipper ran ESPN. Now, I think he runs DAZN. Runs ESPN, beloved, looks like the squarest dude on the planet. Older guy. Hates UFC. Hates it. Hates UFC. Big soccer guy. For whatever reason, people like different things. And I’m not sh-ting on John Skipper. But this is a fact, this happened and this is a true story.

John Skipper speaks on stage at “The New Age of Sports: Streaming, Global Audiences and Big Business” panel at the Fast Company Innovation Festival – Day 1 on November 05, 2019, in New York City. (Brad Barket/Getty Images for Fast Company)

“John Skipper, beloved at ESPN, ESPN’s at the top of their game,” White continued. “These guys are killing it in revenue, they’re getting $5 per subscriber when cable was the biggest it’s ever been. So, our FOX deal is up and we’re probably not gonna do another deal with FOX. They’re selling off cable networks and re-structuring. So they’re not the same company when we signed with them. And John Skipper’s never, ever gonna take the UFC. So, we’re in a real tough place.”

But White’s fortunes would change in a very unexpected way.

“John Skipper’s cocaine dealer is gonna rat him out,” White continued. “So he has to tell Disney ‘My cocaine dealer is gonna go public’ or whatever, so he has to step down from ESPN, right at the time we’re trying to make a new TV deal. Who do they make president? Jimmy Pitaro, who ran Yahoo! Sports for years. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a great dude, and he loves the UFC. Now you got him, you got a guy named Kevin Mayer, who is really close to [Endeavor CEO] Ari [Emanuel], and we ended up doing the ESPN deal when our deal was up.”

President Dana White is interviewed backstage after the UFC 279 press conference at MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 08, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

UFC president Dana White is interviewed backstage after the UFC 279 press conference at MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 08, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Skipper’s tenure at ESPN was not simply marked by the shunning of the UFC and an embrace of soccer. Under Skipper’s leadership, the world’s leading sports media entity also embraced radical, overt leftist politics. In addition, ESPN also suffered historic losses in subscribership due to cord-cutting and the constant expression of radical liberal politics to an audience that wanted to hear about sports.

Skipper currently runs Meadowlark Media along with former ESPN host Dan LeBatard.

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