UFC Appears on its Way to Fox, Leaving Spike TV for FX in $90 Million A Year Deal
- August 16th, 2011
By Charles Jay
If you travel around your digital cable dial, you will notice that there are hundreds of channels. The reality is that they are controlled by a select number of mega-companies, all of which have multiple brands, through development or acquisition.
The UFC has supposedly just made a deal that will take advantage of the vast holdings of one of those companies, while leaving another one in its rearview mirror.
News Corporation, recognizing that the demographics seem to be right, especially with college football set to become more a part of the mix, inked a deal with the UFC for $90 million a year over as much as eight years, and it will splatter the organization across a number of different outlets controlled by its domestic television entity, Fox Network. This much has been reported by Sports Business Journal.
As part of the deal, “The Ultimate Fighter,” which will air on Spike TV until the end of 2011, will switch over to FX, which is Fox’s cable channel with original entertainment programming. FX would also televise the UFC’s version of the club show, UFC Live, which consists of shows that are of a smaller scale than the monthly pay-per-view events and are used to develop and promote talent.
But now there is going to be something in between. This deal gives the UFC something that has met with some success on a limited basis, but never with them – broadcast network exposure. And that is a huge key to the execution of this agreement.
Fox Network, which made the bold moves of acquiring rights to both the National Football League and Major League Baseball in order to give itself a robust sports department and strong lead-ins for its emerging roster of original prime-time shows, is set to air four UFC events a year.
There is some initial curiosity, I guess, as to why the Spike TV deal wasn’t going to be renewed, because word is that Spike, which is owned by MTV Networks, which in turn is controlled by Viacom, was not interested in going further beyond this calendar year. The “TUF” viewership was just fine, though not blowing down any doors. But Spike TV was simply not satisfied with the dip in ratings that taped highlight shows like “Unleashed” and “Countdown” got. About five years ago, viewership for it seemed to be at its peak, but now those programs are averaging about half the audience. UFC programs do continue to score solid ratings on Versus, however, in comparison to other original programming aired by that channel.
In the adult 18-49 demographic during prime-time, FX attained approximately 45% more viewers than Spike on an overall basis as of the last rating period, according to Nielsen.
There was no formal announcement by the UFC as of Tuesday afternoon. Dana White was quoted at a press conference giving what might be best described as a “non-denial denial.” He said, “I do think it’s time. We do fit in with the major sports. What it’ll take to make that happen is a broadcast deal.”
Maybe he’s got it now.
When the subject of the UFC moving closer to the “mainstream” was brought up, in talks with broadcast outlets and quite notably HBO, was that the issue of the UFC wanting to control all aspects of the television production, particularly the announcers, was a problem. The reports that have been published don’t directly address those concerns. However, one has to believe that if control was a deal point, the UFC had one thing to use as leverage between competing suitors.
You see, there were also discussions with NBC about a cross-channel deal. That network, of course, also controls the network formerly known as Versus, which has now been renamed “NBC Sports Channel,” as well as assets available through the merger with Comcast. Reportedly, the deal with NBC was going to allow UFC to virtually have its own channel, as G4, which is a game channel, would have been re-branded and re-purposed. Instead, there will be some UFC programs offered on the “Fuel” network, another Fox entity.
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