By Zach Arnold | August 22, 2011
Listen to the boss of FX talk to the Yahoo Sports Cagewriter.com crew about changes coming for The Ultimate Fighter and UFC programming on Fox platforms
A couple of interesting developments have surfaced in regards to UFC’s new 7-year deal with Fox. Before we get to those developments, I thought some of the comments Lorenzo Fertitta made last Thursday should be highlighted here.
“Well, we always really felt like we wanted to be on network and those other deals just didn’t make sense for us, not just financially but in a lot of different ways. The reason this deal works is because of what you saw here (on Thursday). It’s not just, hey, we’re going to throw a fight up on Fox and see if it works. This is a 7 year commitment at every level – broadcast, cable on a channel that is my favorite channel, it’s in over 100 million homes, definitely at the front edge of new, original programming. Now FX is not only going to have the UFC but they got PAC 12 football, Big 12 football, so now they’re jumping into the sports area in a big way and then also having shoulder programming on Fuel and then count all the RSNs (regional sport networks). So, it’s not just about this is a broadcast deal, this is a major media deal at every level throughout the spectrum.”
“I mean, when you have the biggest sportscaster, biggest sports media company in America coming to the UFC saying we’re not going to just put you on, we’re going to embrace you as part of our family, we’re going to treat you exactly we treat the NFL, college sports, MLB, I mean, yeah, this is a big deal.”
As for how the deal got consummated, Middle Easy has been discussing and pontificating on the role of Ari Emanuel as the ‘fixer’ between the two sides. Ari Emanuel, the brother of President Obama’s former chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel (the current mayor of Chicago). It should come as no surprise given that Blago talked about Rahm’s brother wanting MMA legislation in Illinois and that UFC happens to be one of his clients. Who can blame Zuffa?
The next domino to fall — Spike TV. Who will they get behind and promote? Will they end up working with Zuffa again to promote Strikeforce? It would be an easy way for Zuffa to block potential competition from getting some good cable real estate. Here’s Lorenzo describing UFC’s current relationship with Spike.
“You know, it’s been a real cordial situation. Let me tell you what, what a run it had been over the last 7 years for the UFC and for Spike. I mean, this relationship really benefited both of us. The reality is, though, that come December 31st at 12 o’clock, there’s no more UFC original programming on Spike. So, at some point we had to figure out where our home’s going to be because you can’t just turn it on a dime. We wanted to hit the ground running in 2012 with a lot of momentum and a whole game plan going forward. Of course, we were going to have to come out and tell people where we were going to be.
“Really, what it came down to, it wasn’t a money issue, it was a number of fights issue. We have to grow our business, we need more fights. We need more programming. We’ve got more weight classes and more fighters We’ve got fights we need to do from an international standpoint. So, when you have one channel that you’re broadcast on, one channel can only take so much programming, right? Now, with what I explained here, Fox broadcast, FX, Fuel, all the RSNs, so it opens up a number of pipes for us to be able to provide original programming and live fights. That’s really what the issue was.
“Look… competition’s great. We love to compete, we wake up every morning, that’s all we think about. It’s good. I hope these guys step up and come up with a creative idea and challenge us. I think it’d be good.”
Yes, competition is great… for them to buy out and savage like a carnivore, so I give Lorenzo credit for stating the obvious that they do think about crushing others in their ’space.’
The obvious answer for a replacement on Spike would be Bellator. However, Dave Meltzer says that Viacom is not interested in seeing Bellator move from MTV2 to Spike. What, are they concerned about the Feds looking into the hedge fund money backing Bellator? Bjorn Rebney seems to be hedging his bets and basically saying he is powerless at this point in regards to what Viacom wants done on Spike. Then again, what other alternative options are there for Spike for replacement MMA programming? Bellator is far ahead of Pro Elite in terms of structure and experience in putting together a roster to run cards and produce events. Shark Fights?
The biggest question mark about this new deal with Fox is whether or not the increased exposure will help grow UFC and, if so, by how much.
“Fox just got a sports property that is going to be the biggest sport on the planet, right? It literally is going to be the biggest franchise on the planet and we tell the story all the time. The NFL doesn’t work outside of the United States. FIFA has all the problems with the corruption and everything that is coming of. There’s corruption in cricket and cricket doesn’t work in other countries. This is the only sports property that is pure and works literally around the entire world and I’ve tried to explain because I think there’s still some people out there here in the U.S. on the reporting side that just don’t get the magnitude of what’s going on here. I mean, obviously this is big for the male demographic 18-to-35, people in the know, that generation. But a lot of people don’t know that we’re going to go down to Brazil and literally take over that country. There are signs in the airport in Brazil that say, 2011 UFC, 2014 World Cup, 2016 Olympics. They’re putting us in the same frame work as the World Cup and Olympics and you know how big that’s going to be in Brazil. We’re taking over the country, the city of Rio is sponsoring the event, and we’re expecting 30-40 million people, maybe more, being conservative, [that are] going to watch Anderson Silva defend his title against Yushin Okami. I don’t think people get that here in the U.S. because we haven’t been on that broadcast platform here in the U.S. to really show what we can do.”
UFC growing and the sport of MMA becoming more stable is a benefit to the fans, to writers, and to the fighters who depend on making a living. At the same time, however, it is fair for someone to be skeptical about whether or not we are going to see a real growth explosion under this new business marriage. Yes, UFC going from Spike to Fox is like an ice cream store going from a strip mall to Mall of America, but they are still an ice cream store that sells & markets one flavor of product.
I’m of the belief that UFC running too many shows risks overheating the company’s business machine and stretching their production crews out too thin. They will be able to run in most world markets (outside of a few like Japan) and do so very profitably. The question is whether or not UFC can treat their business like most retail stores (the Best Buys of the world) treat their bottom line by encouraging investment simply due to sheer volume of activity at the risk of having to contract later on down the road when things get too bumpy.
As for whether or not the broadsheet media in the U.S. will embrace UFC on a different level thank to their new deal on Fox, my guess is that there will only be a limited impact because most of the stick-and-ball sports writers & editors will look at UFC as a niche sport permanently. That’s something that UFC simply can’t control.
The best quote on the current media landscape covering MMA:
“Zuffa has created a culture where the media is actually their promotional partners. Zuffa believes media only there to promote their product.”
An addition domino to fall — Zuffa has hired a New York City-based legal firm to help them out with the current FTC investigation against the company.