SBJ/Dec. 14, 2009/This Week's News

Versus’ renewal includes 2 UFC matches

The UFC is coming to Versus as part of a two-year renewal that the Comcast-owned network signed with the mixed martial arts association’s parent, Zuffa.

Versus will telecast two live UFC matches next year, in addition to seven from the WEC, MMA’s division for lighter weights, also owned by Zuffa. As part of the deal, Versus plans to stream one additional WEC fight per fight card exclusively to Versus.com.

Versus also is planning to produce many hours of shoulder programming around its WEC fights, including previews, best knockouts and a review of the best fights.

But the biggest part of the deal is UFC, which has produced some of the most popular programming for Spike TV, which will continue to telecast many of its fights.

The move to Versus, though, is important as it represents the most mainstream sports outlet to carry live UFC matches. Fox Sports Net regionals carried UFC events in the past, but those were telecast on tape delay.

Following on the ratings and ad sales success of its WEC programming, Versus didn’t hesitate to bring on the UFC.

“We recognize that mixed martial arts is one of the fastest-growing sports genres,” said Versus President Jamie Davis.

Davis said MMA is becoming more mainstream, saying that the sport has been sanctioned by 42 states. Earlier this month, for example, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick agreed to regulate the sport.

Davis also pointed to mainstream advertisers that have come on board, rattling off a list that includes Bud Light, Warner Bros., Wrangler and Burger King.

“The negative stigma is going away as these state commissions keep sanctioning it and these big advertisers keep supporting it,” Davis said.

For Davis, the move to sign UFC was an easy one to make. Versus’ WEC fights were the network’s highest rated, and brought in significantly younger audiences. The average Versus viewer is 45 years old. The average Versus viewer during WEC telecasts is 36.

“It’s bringing in a new audience that hasn’t watched us before,” Davis said, adding that Versus promotes its other sports, like the Tour de France, college football and the NHL, during WEC telecasts.

Versus first signed the WEC to a deal in January 2007. After one year, it signed a two-year renewal.

Versus has a WEC fight scheduled for Dec. 19. Its first one under the new deal is scheduled for Jan. 10 from Sacramento.

WEC fights have brought some of the biggest audiences to the network. This year, it has averaged 637,000 viewers through seven live WEC events. Its June 7 fight between Urijah Faber and Mike Brown drew 1.248 million viewers.

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