In 2005, a slight foothold on a barely-watched cable network transformed a struggling sport into something much, much bigger. Six years later and it seems the landscape will change drastically yet again. If yesterday’s reports are true (and at this point, Dana White is playing the “neither confirm nor deny” game), then the UFC’s new marriage to the FOX networks – and the four or so live events that will be broadcast live on the basic cable FX Network channel – will once again foment radical change in an industry built upon radical change after radical change. How so? And what can we assume given this sudden turn of events? Despite having few facts to work with, there’s still plenty of room for wild speculation. So lets!
— Spike TV, which has been the home of UFC properties “The Ultimate Fighter”, “UFC Unleashed”, live shows and whatever other specials get tossed our way, reaches approximately 98.6 million homes. The FX Network reaches 99 million. But the big difference between two is that whereas MTV/Viacom owns Spike TV, FX calls FOX its poppa, and poppa is one of the major networks (its right up there with ABC, CBS and NBC). As all the FOX sub-networks together reach 550 million homes, this means a vastly increased potential platform for the UFC – which in turn means far greater mainstream exposure.
— One of the terms of the FOX/UFC agreement bandied about is that FOX will be paying $90 million a year for the right to broadcast UFC programming. As this number is nearly three times what Spike TV was paying, we can safely assume that the big wigs at FOX believe strongly in the product, and more importantly, that it’s a huge growth industry. Think about it this way: if Spike TV was paying $35 million for the product, and the UFC shops around and determines that every other network out there is only willing to pay $20 million, then that means the executives making the decisions believe the sport is going to contract. Ninety-million, though? Whoa momma, that’s a lot of projected expansion!
— For years Dana White has made public his desire to retain creative control over the product, and according to him, that sticking point has forced the company to wait for just the right deal to come along (i.e., a deal where Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg get to stay). Does this new deal mean the UFC finally caved and relinquished control over production? Probably not.
— Let’s face it, there have been some free cards on Spike TV that seriously lacked the star power of the UFC’s pay-per-views. And that’s understandable, as the UFC makes its dough from pay-per-view sales above all else. Well, with the potential for more eyeballs being attracted to these free events, we just might see a superior product on our TV screens. You know, the whole “put your best foot forward” and “we’re not Spike TV so we’re not going to accept this garbage” motif.
— The UFC ditching Spike TV and settling on the greener pastures of FOX means a void will be created on the men’s channel, and voids must be filled. Enter Bellator, who could very well find itself filling in those Spike TV blanks (perhaps in addition to its slot on MTV2 – we don’t know because we don’t know the terms of Bellator’s contract with MTV2). Also, with the UFC on FOX, that leaves Showtime and CBS still in play when the Strikeforce contract is up. Can you say ProElite?
Take all of this with a huge grain of salt. At this point in time, no official announcements have been made and no press releases have been circulated. But if it’s true, if the UFC will join FOX in a union of holy matrimony… giddyup.