SBD/July 1, 2014/Media

Fox Touts Strength Of UFC Partnership Despite Ratings Numbers Leveling Off

Pre-bout coverage of UFC PPV cards on FS1 draws nearly 1 million viewers
Fox Sports Exec VP/Programming Bill Wagner said that the state of the network's relationship with UFC has "never been stronger," according to Ben Fowlkes of USA TODAY. The parties are two and a half years into a deal that was "reported to garner the UFC" at least $100M a year. Wagner said, "It's one of the strongest partnerships we've had with a sports league. We're really happy with the product, and it's a product that young men flock to." UFC broadcasts on Fox and FS1 have seen ratings "leveling off," and the raw numbers are not "as gaudy as first predicted." But Wagner "insists it's not just how many people are watching, but who those people are." He said, "It's a great male demographic, and it's a very loyal audience." Fowlkes notes the male demographic's loyalty is "especially important when trying to launch a new cable network, as Fox did when it rebranded the Speed channel as Fox Sports 1 in August." USA Today TV reporter Gary Levin said, "I think they're just looking to make it a destination, and putting stuff on there that already has a dedicated following is a good way to do that." Fowlkes notes while FS1 "typically averages fewer than 300,000 viewers in prime time," broadcasts of the preliminary parts of UFC PPV cards on FS1 "regularly move that closer to 1 million" (USA TODAY, 7/1).

SONNEN DONE: MMAJUNKIE.com's Erickson & Morgan reported both the UFC and Fox are "parting ways with recently retired fighter and on-air personality Chael Sonnen" following a pair of "failed random drug tests." Fox and UFC released a joint statement yesterday "not long after the news broke saying Sonnen’s time with the network was over." Sonnen had been co-hosting FS1's "UFC Tonight" weekly show for "most of its run." He has been an FS1 on-air presence "since the channel’s inception nearly a year ago." Sonnen also previously "did analyst work for the Fox family on the big network, as well as FUEL TV" (MMAJUNKIE.com, 6/30).
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