Spike TV seemingly tipped their hand earlier this week when they announced Spike.com would stream all of Bellator season five’s undercards, and according to report on MMA Junkie, a broadcast deal with Bellator is definitely Spike TV’s end game. It turns out though that the situation is a little more complicated than merely replacing the UFC with Bellator when their UFC contract runs out later this year.
According to an unnamed Viacom source, Spike TV has actually owns the rights to the UFC library through 2012, which you would think would work in Spike’s favor, but it doesn’t. Reason being, they can’t broadcast any live events with other organizations while they retain control of the UFC libray.
“It’s going to happen. It’s not ‘if’ but ‘when.’ Throw ‘if’ out the window. The only question is if it’s next year or the year after.”
“Everyone wants Bellator to come to Spike TV,” one source in the company said. “We’re all in this together. But it all comes down to the UFC library. That’s it.”
The source goes on to explain that the UFC could purchase the rights back from Spike TV, but of course that costs money. If they don’t, that leaves Spike open to counter-program their FOX and FX broadcasts all year long.
“If they made a decent offer, we’d probably sell,” one Viacom source said.
“I don’t think FOX truly understands what having the library means,” one Viacom source said. “That means we could put (old seasons of) ‘TUF’ against (new seasons of) ‘TUF.’ We could be airing fights, replays of fights, all kinds of stuff when they’re airing live fights.”
“The last thing you want is confusion in the marketplace,” the source said. “You have to spend a lot of money to let people know where you’re airing. People are creatures of habit. They don’t read stuff for the most part. They only know the channel it’s on, and a lot of people don’t know (about the UFC’s move to FX).”
To summarize the UFC’s dilemma, they’re faced with either spending a bunch of money and giving a potential competitor access to the same channel they spent the last six years building their company and audience on or they leave themselves open to being constantly counter-programmed by their own shows in the most critical period of their seven-year deal with FOX and FX.
That right there is what you call a pickle.