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The UFC and Fox Thursday formally announced a broadcast partnership that will "put UFC programming on the Fox family of networks for the next seven years," the first time MMA's leading organization will appear on broadcast TV, according to Mike Chiappetta of MMAFIGHTING.com. The agreement, which was first reported Tuesday by SBD's John Ourand, calls for the Fox network to broadcast four UFC events per year, while FX will carry six. In addition, "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series will air on FX "in a revamped, live version, while other Fox-owned entities like Fuel and Fox Deportes will also carry UFC programming." Fox will air its first UFC event Nov. 12, with further programming on other Fox networks launching in January. Fox execs on Thursday said that they "were drawn to the UFC by their ability to attract the coveted" male 18-34 year old demographic. Fox Sports Media Group Chair David Hill, "who had in the past voiced no interest in MMA," said that he "had changed his tune over the past few years as he watched UFC continue to grow and market their brand and fighters." UFC co-Owner Lorenzo Fertitta admitted that for a time, the promotion "looked into launching its own network." But after "considering all the available options including competing network offers, the Fox deal best fit their goals and needs." Fertitta said, "I think that a UFC channel would be very successful. But we sat down, thought about it a little bit and said, 'You know what we do best? Put on great fights.' We're not in the business of running a network." Chiappetta noted under terms of the deal, the UFC "will continue to control production of its events, though Fox will have input" and will control pre- and post-fight shows (MMAFIGHTING.com, 8/18). USA TODAY's Sergio Non reports a "sticking point in past talks with networks has been" UFC parent company Zuffa LLC's "insistence on controlling live broadcasts" (USA TODAY, 8/19).
CHANGING HIS TUNE: Hill said that his "interest in UFC went back 10 years to conversations he had" with Fertitta that ultimately led to carrying a live fight on FSN's now-defunct "Best Damn Sports Show Period." Hill said, "The sport has gone from a niche to an international powerhouse. I’ve never seen anything go from zero to hero in so short a time." He noted that he was "further convinced of the importance of acquiring the UFC's rights by Jay Glazer, the Fox NFL reporter who is also a mixed martial arts trainer with a clientele that includes NFL players" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/19). Hill in '08 expressed his opposition to broadcasting MMA, saying, "What's totally abhorrent about it -- I've said this to people running it -- is that one guy will be down and the other one can keep hitting him." Then Fox Sports President Ed Goren also said three years ago, "We don't need money that badly." But now, Hill believes that there is "passion among everyone at the network for a sport that's 'going to get bigger and bigger.'" He said, "The importance of this deal is the 18-34 male demo." USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes advertisers "covet those viewers, who can also help a sport long term when they pass down their interest in it to their children." Fox Sports Media Group co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said that he would "love to use Fox announcer Gus Johnson, who called CBS' MMA fights," in pre- and post-fight segments around UFC coverage (USA TODAY, 8/19).
STEP INTO PRIMETIME: UFC President Dana White, on hand for Thursday's press conference, said, "There have been a lot of big milestones in the last 10 years, but this is the biggest. This was it for me. This is what I always wanted. This was the pinnacle -- for us to get a deal with Fox, not just to be on the No. 1 network in the country but to be on the network with all the other major sports. It’s going to take this sport to the next level" (SHERDOG.com, 8/18). Fertitta said, "We’ve grown at a meteoric rate and now are one of the popular mainstream sports in the world. But being in the Fox family, being on Fox Sports, home of the Super Bowl and the World Series, and to be treated and promoted on the same level that they are, it’s an amazing day" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 8/19). White added, "This is the pinnacle." He assured that the broadcast fights "will be significant match-ups, rather than saving all of the important bouts for Pay Per View." White: “We want to pull ratings, we want to pull the big numbers" (EW.com, 8/18).
THAT'S THE CABLE TALKING: FX President Jon Landgraf said that the "addition of the UFC puts the network on a level playing field with networks like TBS and TNT that offer sports programming." Landgraf: "We can now stand toe to toe with anybody in our set." In addition, Shanks said that Fuel "will have a 'significant' amount of UFC supporting programming and live event shows throughout the year." He acknowledged that there was "some discussion about rebranding Fuel as a UFC channel, but it was ultimately decided to place UFC programming on the network" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 8/18). ADWEEK's Anthony Crupi wrote the UFC is a "particularly good fit for FX, which specializes in scripted bad-assery, irreverent, guy-friendly comedy, and movies." Lately, it "has begun investing in sports properties -- this year FX will air weekly Pac-12 and Big 12 college football games." The cable network also is "eyeing the new NFL package" for Thursday night games, "which goes up for bid next month." Landgraf: "Our ratings are up there with all the other networks on an entertainment business. Our competitors had professional sports to set them apart and now so do we" (ADWEEK.com, 8/18). CABLEFAX DAILY writes FX "may very well emerge as the undisputed winner from all this." The broadcast partnership will infuse "TUF" with a "live format and direct fan engagement." In addition, the UFC is "expected to goose FX's viewership among males 18-34, an elusive demo courted by advertisers and with which football also scores extremely well" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 8/19). YAHOO SPORTS' Dave Meltzer noted FX will rebrand Fridays as "UFC night," putting it in "direct competition with its rival entertainment product," WWE, which airs “SmackDown” on the Syfy channel the same night. WWE's PPV numbers "have declined at the same time the UFC’s have increased, and even WWE President Vince McMahon has acknowledged that its pay-per-views take a hit when on the same weekend as a UFC event, something they now do their best to avoid" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/18).
White says UFC is not trying to go up against
Pacquiao bout with date of first Fox broadcast
WIN FOR THE FIGHTERS: YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Iole wrote "no one" will benefit more from the UFC/Fox partnership "than those who have turned the sport into what it is: its fighters." Former UFC fighter Frank Trigg said, "Fox is a bigger stage than Spike, a bigger stage than Versus, a bigger stage than any outlet the UFC has. ... This is mainstream coverage and it’s going to reach an infinitely larger audience than they’ve ever reached. It’s what is going to propel them over the top and that is going to make the fighters major stars." Iole noted the "visibility the fighters will receive on Fox will lead to far more lucrative endorsement contracts, as well as open other business opportunities for them." Fox has been "known for the great job it does cross-promoting its programming during sports broadcasts, and it would be no shock to see UFC fighters appearing on popular Fox shows such as American Idol." MMA Inc. COO Mike Roberts, whose firm manages several UFC fighters, said, "The endorsement opportunities and the sponsorship money will go up for most of the fighters" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/18). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes fans should expect to see "some ultradimensional cross-promotion of the sport on Fox's NFL, MLB and NASCAR coverage, and on shows such as 'American Idol,' as events draw near" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 8/19). Fighter Frankie Edgar said, "We'll be considered a mainstream athlete, just like the NFL, NBA, MLB. To be on that platform, we're not second class anymore." Edgar and fellow fighters Georges St-Pierre and Rashad Evans indicated that while they "feel well taken care of by Zuffa LLC ... their hope is fighter pay will increase alongside UFC revenues" (ESPN.com, 8/18).
Longhorn Network launches a week from Friday, but it “has yet to announce any signed contracts that would make its broadcasts available to consumers in Central Texas and beyond,” according to Gary Dinges of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus said, "We'll have a lot more to share in the next eight days. It's not a great concern right now. It's just simply the way it works." A Time Warner Cable spokesperson said this week that “talks with ESPN are ongoing and that executives are hopeful a deal can be reached in the near future.” TWC is the “area's dominant cable provider” (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 8/19). Magnus confirmed that the network “has yet to complete a single deal with cable, satellite or telecom carriers but called the eight days until next Friday’s launch ‘an eternity in this world.’” Magnus indicated that the “pivotal day for carriage is Sept. 3 when the Longhorns football team opens its season against Rice.” Meanwhile, Magnus said that ESPN “had preliminary discussions with Oklahoma about a similar Sooners network, but they didn’t get very far.” Magnus: “They have everything Texas has but the population” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/19).
HIGH SCHOOL PLANS STILL ON THE AGENDA: ESPN VP/PR Josh Krulewitz on Thursday said that LHN “still intends to feature high school highlights as part of its news coverage.” In San Antonio, Mike Finger noted the comment comes “a week after an NCAA ruling forced the network to scuttle plans to broadcast entire prep football games.” ESPN though is “taking a position that the content of news programs should not be regulated by the NCAA.” Krulewitz: “We appreciate and support the discussions surrounding the complexities of televising stand-alone high school games on Longhorn Network. In the context of news coverage, it’s obviously a completely separate matter and we plan to report on high school athletics in a way that is relevant to the audience” (MYSANANTONIO.com, 8/18). A Big 12 spokesperson said that the conference, which “voted this month to ban live telecasts of high school games on the network, will defer to the NCAA for a rules interpretation” (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 8/19).
SNEAK PEEK: LHN on Thursday opened its doors to UT student-athletes, coaches and administrators for a behind-the-scenes media tour of its studio and working space. The studio was decorated with vintage Longhorns memorabilia, and UT women's Swimming & Diving coach Kim Brackin said, "It didn't really hit me until I walked in here today, and I saw how exceptional the studio was, that I understood how special this network is going to be for us." LHN will go live with a two-hour special from the UT campus on Friday, Aug. 26 at 6:00pm CT. The network's on-air team of Lowell Galindo, Samantha Steele and Kevin Dunn will be joined on the set by ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew featuring Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews (UT). The local media was also invited to LHN Thursday and in Austin, Kirk Bohls writes the studios “look slick and professional” and the operation is “first-class in every way” (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 8/19).
The NHL Thursday released its broadcast schedule for the '11-12 season, highlighted by NBC and Versus airing 100 regular-season games during the first year of a new 10-year partnership. Versus, which will be renamed NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2, will feature exclusive coverage of games on Wednesday and Sunday nights. The net will air live 30-minute pre- and postgame shows for every contest. NBC for the first time will air a game the day after Thanksgiving, the first of 11 contests that will air on the net. Also for the first time, flex games NBC chooses not to air will appear on the net's cable outlet beginning on March 4 (NBC). The Bruins and Flyers are tied for the most scheduled appearances on NBC or Versus this season with 13, while the Red Wings and Blackhawks will appear 12 times. The CBC will air 104 games in Canada, and the Canadiens lead the way with 28 appearances on the net (NHL.com, 8/18). TSN will carry 77 regular-season games, with "73 of those featuring at least one Canadian team." TSN2's schedule features an additional 74 games (CP, 8/18). The Jets will appear on national TV in Canada "26 times during their first season back in Winnipeg." The CBC will air 21 games, while TSN will broadcast five of the team's contests nationally. The other 56 games "will be shown on a regional TSN channel thanks to an agreement that has yet to be announced" (WINNIPEG SUN, 8/19). View complete '11-12 regular-season broadcast listing for NBC, Versus, NHL Network, TSN and the CBC.
BREAKING IT DOWN: YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski assessed the winners and losers of the U.S. broadcast schedule, naming Lightning C Steven Stamkos a winner. The Lightning will see a "considerable jump in coverage after last season," appearing 21 times on national TV. Wyshynski also named "playoff bubble watchers" winners and noted the "overload of games from March 25 through April 7 is going to feel like the unofficial start of the postseason." However, Oilers players come out as losers, as their team "will not be featured on NBC or Versus, despite potentially featuring the first overall picks from the last two drafts that Versus aired." Also, not having the Bruins-Canucks Stanley Cup Final rematch on NBC or NBC Sports Network "is a whiff." The Jan. 7 game will instead air on NHL Network (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/18).
GETTING A CALL BACK: In Pittsburgh, Shelly Anderson reports Root Sports Pittsburgh play-by-play announcer Paul Steigerwald and analyst Bob Errey "have signed multiyear contracts to return as the Penguins television announcers." Their previous contracts with Root Sports "ran out after last season, but there apparently was no impetus to look elsewhere." Root Sports "will televise at least 70 regular-season games after earlier this year signing to carry the Penguins through 2028-29." The net "likely will air all three home preseason games, too." The games "will feature new high-tech graphics." Roots Sports Pittsburgh Senior VP & GM Shawn McClintock said that the new look "will extend beyond what Root Sports has done with the Pirates broadcasts this season" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 8/19).
Galavision averaged 1.323 million viewers for its telecast of the Mexico-Colombia FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinal last Saturday night, marking the fourth most-viewed Spanish language cable TV telecast ever. The network also averaged 1.15 million viewers for its coverage of the Mexico-Cameroon match on August 9. Through the first 12 telecasts of the tournament, Galavision viewership is up 272% compared to the tournament in '09.
SHARK ATTACK: NFL Network averaged 280,000 viewers for the Jacksonville Sharks' win over the Arizona Rattlers in ArenaBowl XXIV last Friday night, marking the AFL's most-viewed telecast on the network since it began airing the league's games two seasons ago. The previous high was 192,000 viewers for this year's regular-season finale, which featured the Sharks and Spokane Shock. ArenaBowl XXIV viewership is up 180% from 100,000 viewers for last year's Shock-Tampa Bay Storm matchup in ArenaBowl XXIII.
ROSE PEDALS: The Portland Invitational, which has been the only consistent stop on the Dew Tour since the series began in '05, averaged 933,000 viewers on NBC last Sunday, up slightly from 912,000 viewers last year. The audience, however, remains down from '05-08, when the Sunday telecast averaged over 1 million viewers. NBC also averaged 906,000 viewers for Saturday coverage of the event, up 38% from 659,000 viewers last year.
The chart below lists final Nielsen ratings from recent sports telecasts. All ratings listed are U.S. ratings.
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) PGA Championship: Final Round8/14CBS2:30-8:05pm4.16,107 NFL Preseason: Buccaneers-Chiefs8/12Fox8:11-10:58pm3.04,860 PGA Championship: Third Round8/13CBS2:30-7:19pm2.33,338 MLB: (regional)8/13Fox4:08-7:12pm1.72,793 Izod IndyCar Series:
MoveThatBlock.com Indy 2258/14ABC3:30-6:00pm0.91,277
Dew Tour: Portland Invitational8/14NBC4:30-6:00pm0.6933 U.S. Diving Championships:
Dew Tour: Portland Invitational8/13NBC4:30-6:00pm0.6906 U.S. Diving Championships:
AMA Motocross8/13NBC3:00-4:00pm0.5746 College Home Run Derby (repeat)8/14CBS12:00-1:00pm0.6740 Tennis: "U.S. Open Court Royalty"8/14CBS1:00-2:00pm0.5691 "ESPN Sports Saturday"8/13ABC4:00-6:00pm0.5n/a TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT.VIEWERS (000) NFL Preseason: Seahawks-Chargers8/11ESPN8:00-11:10pm2.94,390 NASCAR Nationwide Series:
Zippo 200 at The Glen8/13ESPN1:55-4:12pm1.31,913
MLB: Rockies-Cardinals8/14ESPN8:00-11:41pm1.21,807 "NASCAR Countdown"8/14ESPN12:00-12:55pm1.21,741 "Monday Night Countdown"8/11ESPN7:00-8:00pm1.11,534 PGA Championship: Second Round8/12TNT1:00-7:41pm1.11,459 PGA Championship: Final Round8/14TNT11:00am-2:00pm1.01,438 MLB: Red Sox-Twins8/8ESPN7:00-10:13pm0.91,332 PGA Championship: Third Round8/13TNT11:00am-2:00pm1.01,340 FIFA U-20 World Cup Quarterfinal:
In Akron, George Thomas reports a "rumor making the rounds with local media types" is that SportsTime Ohio, the Indians' flagship TV station, "is up for sale." But STO President Jim Liberatore said that the channel "isn’t being shopped." Liberatore: “When you look at the players now in our space, FSN, TWC, DirecTV, Comcast, etc., there is always someone who wants to discuss future alliances or purchase. Ownership has been asked about this almost from day one. With that said, the ‘For Sale’ sign is not out and never has been" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 8/19).
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE: In San Diego, Brent Schrotenboer reports Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson "criticized Time Warner Cable Thursday for acting like a monopoly and not responding to several concerned parties, including his league’s TV network and even San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders." Thompson and Sanders, among others, "want Time Warner to carry" The Mtn. If TWC "decides not to accept it, it will mark the sixth straight season that about 200,000 Time Warner subscribers in the northern half of San Diego County will not be able to watch" several San Diego State games. Thompson said, "It's a monopoly, and it's frustrating." He added, "We just want an answer. ... Don't be stringing me along or be unresponsive." Schrotenboer notes Cox Cable, San Diego’s other major cable provider, "has carried the Mtn. since late 2006 and has about 500,000 local subscribers" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 8/19).
PARLEZ-VOUS FRANCAIS? In Toronto, Dave Pollard reports Rogers Communications is "scrapping plans to launch its own French sports channel and will instead partner with Quebecor's new television venture that will launch next month." TVA Group President & CEO Pierre Dion "confirmed that an agreement had been reached with Rogers Sportsnet." TVA Sports already has announced it will air 25 Senators game during the '11-12 season, 60 Blue Jays games next year, "UFC fights, UEFA Champions League games and a number of top-flight boxing matches." In addition, broadcast rights to the Montreal Impact, which will join MLS next year, "were recently acquired to bolster TVA Sports' content package" (TORONTO SUN, 8/19).
GOLDEN GOAL: SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote MLS' new partnership with NBC "is big for MLS for a number of reasons." More soccer fans in the U.S. "will be able to see MLS games (due to NBC Sports' greater reach) and in HD, and the quality of NBC's coverage should be higher than FSC's bare-bones approach." The deal also "provides serious competition for ESPN, which views NBC/Comcast as a real adversary." Wahl added, "Now that NBC Sports is into soccer, it will be fascinating to see how the bidding goes for the rights to broadcast the 2018 and '22 World Cups, as well as the MLS rights deals that now end for everyone at the end of 2014" (SI.com, 8/18).