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In what would represent a major push into the mainstream for the UFC, Fox has agreed to a deal that will see the broadcast channel air as many as four MMA events per year, according to several sources. The multiyear deal would mark the first time the UFC will have consistent airtime on a broadcast network. Fox execs refused to comment on the deal, but sources with knowledge of the negotiations said bidding had gone as high as $90M per year. The Fox deal is believed to be for seven or eight years. As part of the deal, most of the weekly programming that UFC has on Versus and Spike TV will move to FX starting in January. That includes several fight cards, plus shows like the reality series "The Ultimate Fighter." Fox-owned Fuel also will wind up with some UFC content. But rumors that Fox will rebrand Fuel as a UFC channel are not true, sources said. Fox was attracted to UFC programming, which has produced some of the highest viewership figures -- and most attractive demos -- on Versus and Spike TV. UFC also has become more mainstream, with almost all states now sanctioning the sport, although New York remains a notable holdout. Both the Versus and Spike TV deals with UFC expire at the end of the year. UFC has long looked to get a broadcast TV deal for its content. Sources said UFC had been negotiating with Comcast/NBC for several months in a deal that would have included NBC and Versus and would have seen G4 rebranded as a UFC channel, but those talks recently broke down. The UFC's talks with Viacom-owned Spike ended before that. Sources said Spike ultimately passed over concern that its UFC shoulder programming stopped growing. Shows like "Unleashed," "Knockouts" and "Countdown" averaged 1 million viewers in '05. This year, they are averaging 492,000. Spike holds the rights to UFC library programming through '12, including old fights and shoulder programming such as "UFC Unleashed." UFC's Sunday night event in Milwaukee on Versus also drew 766,000 viewers from 9:00-11:09pm ET, marking the net's most-viewed program for the week ending August 14. That figure is up 3% from 744,000 viewers for the last UFC event on Versus on June 26.
ESPN and Conference USA have settled their lawsuit, with ESPN picking up the rights to C-USA's championship game. Under terms of the agreement, ESPN will gain the rights to C-USA's football championship game from '11-15. "ESPN and Conference USA are pleased to announce that they have settled their litigation," the two sides said in a prepared statement. "As a result, ESPN has acquired exclusive distribution rights to the Conference USA Football Championship Game for the 2011-2015 football seasons. The 2011 football championship game will air on ESPN2 at noon eastern time on December 3, 2011. The parties look forward to continuing their relationship going forward. There will be no additional comments regarding this matter from either party at this time." Fox had held the rights to that game, thanks to its deal with C-USA in January. FSN will have a minimum of 20 C-USA football games per year, which will appear on both FSN and FX. "Fox was not a party to the suit, but as we would do with any partner when asked to help, we were open to the conversation," said Fox Sports Media Group co-President & co-COO Randy Freer. "We applaud C-USA and ESPN for resolving their differences and look forward to a great college football season." ESPN in March filed suit in Manhattan federal court alleging that the conference did not fulfill its contractual obligations to the network when it sold its TV rights to Fox in January. ESPN's suit alleged that it had previously reached an agreement in principle with C-USA. ESPN also said that C-USA ran afoul of contract terms when it was not given a final offer to consider.
CBS earned a 4.1 fast-national Nielsen rating and drew 6.11 million viewers for its coverage of the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday, which saw Keegan Bradley defeat Jason Dufner in a playoff. Those figures are down 5% and 6%, respectively, from a 4.3 rating and 6.51 million viewers for Martin Kaymer's playoff win over Bubba Watson last year. This year's final round peaked at a 6.0 rating and 9.44 million viewers from 7:30-8:00pm ET. Cleveland-Akron and Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem topped all U.S. markets with a 6.4 local rating, followed by Greenville-Spartanburg (6.3), Las Vegas (6.2) and West Palm Beach (6.2) (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). DAILY VARIETY's Rick Kissell notes CBS "cruised to a primetime ratings victory Sunday, as a golf overrun led to higher-than-usual ratings" (VARIETY.com, 8/15).
PGA CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL ROUND RATINGS TREND
ON CBS DURING TIGER WOODS ERAYEARNETWORKSUNDAYTIGER'11CBS4.1T116'10CBS4.3T28'09CBS6.62'08CBS2.8DNP'07CBS6.21'06CBS7.01'05*CBS5.6T4'04CBS4.4T24'03CBS4.5T39'02CBS7.52'01CBS6.3T29'00CBS8.81'99CBS6.91'98CBS5.7T10'97CBS5.5T30
NOTES: The '04 and '08 PGA Championships were up against the opening weekends of the Athens and Beijing Olympics, respectively. * = The final round of the '05 tournament was suspended at 6:30pm due to inclement weather and concluded on Monday morning.
GOOD TIMING: In Boston, Brendan Lynch reports Putnam Investments "had sponsorship money riding" on Bradley for "only three months" when he won the tournament Sunday in a playoff over Jason Dufner. Putnam Head of Global Marketing Jeff Carney said, "When it's in the broadcast like that, that's exactly what we're looking for. We want to be in the action. The deal is significantly exceeding expectations on what we forecasted when we made the investment." Lynch notes Bradley "appears at golf clinics for Putnam customers and executives," and he serves as a brand ambassador (BOSTON HERALD, 8/16).
In Vancouver, Greg Douglas wrote when Rogers Communications signed a 10-year deal to purchase naming and wireless rights to the Canucks' arena in July '10, it "seems reasonable to suggest that the Canucks' radio broadcasts came up in the conversation." Bell Media Radio's Team 1040 "has one year remaining as rights holders of Canucks' radio broadcasts." Having the Canucks' radio rights "as a Bell property clearly doesn't sit well with Rogers." So while the "company line from Bell Radio remains that renewal negotiations with the Canucks are 'progressing,' Rogers continues to look at its options that some say could result in the creation of another all-sports radio station in Vancouver." That "would make a total of three, including Team 1410" (VANCOUVER SUN, 8/13).
TIME TO LOG OFF: In Las Vegas, Ryan Greene reports UNLV football players are "no longer allowed on Twitter while members of the team." UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said, "We did a lot of research around the country. Everyone in our league has a policy on it, you see the SEC and different people making policies, so we just decided to rein all that in. (The policy) gives young guys less of an opportunity to make a bad decision." Hauck said that his players are "still allowed on Facebook" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 8/16).
READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL: NFL Network last Thursday drew a record 737,000 average viewers for its primetime "Around the League: Preseason 2011" special that featured live look-ins at the first preseason games of the year. The show garnered the net's highest-ever primetime August viewership for a non-game telecast. Meanwhile, NFL Digital Media properties, including NFL.com and NFL Mobile, drew the highest numbers ever for the first day of an NFL preseason (NFL).
BACK TO SCHOOL: FS Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association have reached a five-year extension of their TV rights agreement, maintaining FS Oklahoma as the exclusive TV outlet for OSSAA championship events through the '15-16 academic year. The net will offer more than 30 championship events and 13 highlight shows in '11-12 (FS Oklahoma).