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).
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).