By Zach Arnold | August 28, 2013
You knew it was going to be a tough start for the Fox Sports empire with the launch of FS1. After all, CBS Sports has their own cable channel and the channel formerly known as OLN/Versus (now NBC Sports) is owned by Comcast. There is competition for ESPN, but Fox was supposed to be the competition. You wanted an alternative? You got it. The general sports media has been groaning about ESPN’s transgressions, and rightfully so, but in the process got caught up in believing that the masses would rush to an alternative sports channel.
Not so fast.
— MMA Supremacy (@MMASupremacy) August 27, 2013
Comparison: Last week in Primetime, ESPN averaged 2.17M viewers, ESPN2: 473K, NFL Net: 383K, MLB Network: 193K, Golf: 137K, NBC Sports: 104K
— MMA Supremacy (@MMASupremacy) August 28, 2013
As opinions on Fox Sports 1 harden, we can see that the early reviews signal FS1 being much closer to NBC & CBS cable channels than to ESPN. ESPN mocked FS1 (correctly so) but wanted to see FS1 do solid enough numbers that NBC & CBS would get buried down the depth chart. NBCSN, being owned by Comcast, is theoretically a threat to ESPN. The reality appears to be that NBCSN has scored big with EPL programming and will cash in with some NASCAR content. Since Comcast owns NBCSN, the issue of carriage fees is not as crucial as it would be to, say, CBS Sports and FS1. They are in the carriage fee game. They gave up a lot of money by not getting new deals cut with cable/satellite providers for FS1.
Simply put, you’re not going to get a bump up from 23 cents a viewer to 80 cents a viewer if the following happens:
Party time at UFC HQ. Some FS1 non-UFC shows are drawing 0.0 ratings. Back up the Brinks truck for future UFC/Fox negotiations.
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) August 28, 2013
0.0 ratings for some programming is absurd. Regis Philbin’s new show, opposite Around the Horn on ESPN, is drawing 29,000 viewers. That is not a typo. When you have programming drawing less than 50,000 viewers, you are in trouble. Misery loves company and FS1 has plenty of it right now. And that misery is giving UFC a hell of a lot more leverage at the bargaining table for future projects.
Dana White has preached about wanting weekly fight cards. If the trend is your friend, Dana White’s wish for weekly UFC shows could happen sooner rather than later. That’s a link to an article I wrote last week about how UFC is in great position to capitalize on FS1’s weakened position. FS1 needs UFC so badly. Without UFC on Fuel/FS2, a significant portion of FS2 programming draws less than 1,000 viewers.
FS1 has to be prepared to shell out more cash to UFC in order to get weekly cards. It’s not a matter of if but when it happens. It will be a positive development for MMA fans. It will be a step in the right direction for FS1, which desperately needs UFC programming in volume in order to get a carryover effect to bump up ratings for other shows. Without that UFC effect, FS1 is gasping for air. Sure, NASCAR gave them a nice little bump (half million viewers) & college football games will somewhat help. However, UFC right now appears to have the hardest of the hardcore viewerships that FS1 needs for survival.
It’s almost a fait accompli that we’re going to get weekly fight cards. I suspect they’ll draw more than 150k viewers like the Golden Boy fight from New York drew last Monday. The next step up will be for the suits at Fox Sports 1 to pony up enough cash to convince UFC to eliminate some of their scheduled PPVs in exchange for bigger, marquee fight cards on FS1. It’s a situation that both parties need to consider and embrace. If UFC can trim down the amount of PPVs to 10 (or less) and FS1 can get some UFC shows with bigger names, it would prove to be successful for both parties. It would prove to be the right move to give the fans what they want.
The UFC is in a terrific position here. Their casino money gave them an advantage over the competition to get the ball rolling in the MMA space for financing. Only yakuza cash could compete (somewhat) on that front and now it’s largely out of the fight space in Japan. Japan doesn’t even have a national MMA player now. Along with the casino money, UFC has the big advantage of cable being a powerhouse in the States. In Japan, being ‘cable strong’ would get you laughed out of a television executive’s ivory tower office. In America, being cable strong with a partner like Fox not only gets you a big multi-year deal, it gets you in a position to significantly leverage a hardcore fan base and convince suits at FS1 that they need your product to help support their network when the chips are down. In Japan, the Bushido series PRIDE produced drew a few million viewers on tape delay a week or so later on broadcast television. PRIDE’s hardcore fan base was mocked and looked down upon as a bunch of otakus. Imagine how much more cash UFC could command if their lowest-rated telecasts drew 5 million viewers a show.
Jack Encarnacao recently did an interview with Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand about how UFC is viewed by network television executives. He basically stated that UFC is in the same category of EPL in terms of being a niche but a strong niche that can deliver a precise demographic. EPL soaked NBC out of a lot of cash and the UFC is in prime position to do the same with Fox.