SBD/August 22, 2011/Media

Fox-UFC Deal May Determine Future Of MMA In Mainstream World Of Sports

UFC's broadcast deal with Fox puts MMA on network TV for the first time
The seven-year deal putting live UFC cards on Fox "should determine whether MMA can make it on network television (and be considered a major sport) or if it will be relegated to pay-per-view or deep-numbered cabled stations," according to Tom Jones of the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES. Fox "appears committed to giving MMA an honest chance, and UFC is the biggest and best of the MMA associations." The net in the past "has shown innovation and commitment when carrying sports for the first time," but Jones noted the "question now is if mainstream sports fans are ready to accept MMA as they do, say, the NBA" (TAMPABAY.com, 8/19). In Orlando, Matt Erickson noted the "significance of the deal comes with putting UFC on network television for the first time." UFC President Dana White said, "We talked to every major broadcast network and media company out there. I always wanted to do a deal with Fox. ... We reviewed a lot of deals, and this one was the right one for the UFC." He added, "It's not just about the right deal. It's about having the right partner. Fox is the right partner." Erickson reported Fox "aired its first UFC promo during a break in its broadcast of [an] Eagles-Steelers exhibition game" Thursday night. CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell said that Fox "appears to be poised for an all-out promotional blitz touting its new partnership throughout the NFL season, during the World Series in October and during NASCAR events on both Fox and FX" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/21).

NICE DAY FOR A WHITE WEDDING: MMA WEEKLY's Ken Pishna noted White Friday used his Twitter account "to take a shot at ESPN for cancelling an upcoming promotional interview, he says, due to the Fox deal." White posted on Twitter: "ESPN has always hated us and now they hate us more now that we are on FOX. They canceled my (interview) next week for UFC Rio. (Expletive) ESPN." White added in his post host Jim Rome "is the only good thing about ESPN." Pishna noted MMA, and the UFC in particular, "has crept into ESPN's on-air programming over the past couple of years, after starting out as part of the sports media giant's online offerings." ESPN also has its own MMA magazine-style show in "MMA Live" (MMAWEEKLY.com, 8/20). ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys yesterday said the White interview "was a postponement," and the net "invited him to come in before a UFC event in September" (USA TODAY, 8/22).

FIGHT NIGHT: In Boston, Ron Borges noted UFC will be on Fox on Nov. 12, "going head-to-head with the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez" PPV broadcast, and boxing promoter Lou DiBella "conceded it was another blow to boxing." DiBella said, "It won't help. Pacquiao is still a huge star but will it have a (negative) impact on boxing? Of course it will. I don't think they're trying to hurt boxing but UFC has done a good job building up their sport." He added, "MMA appeals to a demographic that appeals to advertisers. I was saying this when I was still at HBO Sports (negotiating fight deals). I advocated for a new series that would look different and promote young prospects. We didn't do it. It was a mistake. We're not developing young fans" (BOSTON HERALD, 8/21). But in Ohio, Dann Stupp notes the UFC card on Fox will be "off air" prior to the start of Pacquiao-Marquez. While UFC "traditionally airs four- or five-fight events, Fox's November debut will feature just two bouts." Stupp: "It's a sort of preview of bigger shows to come" (DAYTON DAILY NEWS, 8/22).

NEW CONTENDERS? Spike TV is losing most of its UFC content as a result of the Fox deal, and SI.com's Ben Fowlkes wrote instead of "getting out of the MMA business altogether, it seems likely that the cable network aimed squarely at young men will simply replace the UFC with the upstart Bellator organization, hoping that Spike is enough of a destination for fights that its audience won't care about the brand name on the mats." A "hefty portion of the fan base still seems to think the sport itself is called UFC." Fowlkes: "How do you pull this switcheroo without losing your entire audience? That's the question Spike will be looking to answer if and when it scoops up Bellator, but it already has a few things working in its favor." It has "been tough for Bellator to gain too much traction" on MTV2, but moving to Spike, "which is betting that some viewers will still flip past it looking for fights even after the UFC is gone, could fix that problem." Now that Strikeforce appears to "have an expiration date stamped on its forehead, Bellator could become that viable second option." Fowlkes: "That is, if it can secure the right TV partner" (SI.com, 8/19). SHERDOG.com's Jack Encarnacao noted the presence of Spike execs at Saturday's Bellator Fighting Championships in Connecticut "stoked speculation that the tournament-based promotion could land on the MMA-friendly cable network after the UFC leaves." Spike TV Senior VP/Sports & Specials Brian Diamond "attended the Bellator event, and spent time in the production truck and at cageside." Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said of the Spike execs, "They've been at all of our shows. They're part of the MTV networks family" (SHERDOG.com, 8/21).
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