SBJ/August 22-28, 2011/Opinion

Fox, UFC a game changer?

Will it be one of the most significant deals of the year or will it fail to become a game changer?

For the UFC, last week’s deal with Fox represented perhaps its biggest step toward mainstream acceptance. For Fox, the deal delivers a young, rabid demo, live events and key programming for its cable channels.

Many dismissed the UFC for years, but one must credit the Fertittas and Dana White, who are now getting a rights fee other properties would envy. The social following of the sport also shouldn’t be overlooked: Watch the UFC trend on Facebook and Twitter, and pity the cable operator that doesn’t carry marquee UFC events.

The sport still has plenty of skeptics. Some are convinced it’s too violent to attract enough support from corporate America. Others feel the UFC has peaked. The Fox deal will likely be the clearest barometer. One would imagine that viewership will increase initially, given such a wider audience. But is it sustainable? Do people watch after the early curiosity? David Hill and company are betting yes.

Although Fox had in the past dismissed carrying MMA, for them, it’s not a bad gamble. The UFC’s best corporate fit was with Fox, but can any network take a property into the sport mainstream that has such high negatives? That will determine whether this deal is a game changer.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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