Ultimate Fighting Championship, the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world, has entered into a new seven-year broadcast agreement with Fox, bringing the promotion to network television for the first time. Both companies announced the deal Thursday afternoon at a joint press conference in Los Angeles. Sports Business Daily first reported the deal Tuesday citing unnamed sources.
“Mixed martial arts is not only the fastest growing sport in the world, but also the world’s most exciting form of man-to-man competition, and the UFC is the world’s premier MMA organization,” said FSMG President & Co-COO Eric Shanks. “Since FOX Sports is America’s No. 1 sports network and FOX is America’s No. 1 network for young adults, the UFC on FOX is a perfect match.”
Fox will show four live events in prime time or late night each year, starting Nov. 12 with a to-be-determined card. The Fox family of networks will also show programming including 32 live fights a year, pre and post shows, countdown shows, UFC Unleashed, UFC Primetime, the UFC Knockout series, Best of Pride, weigh-in specials, and other original content from the Zuffa archives. The agreement also provides for developing robust mobile and authenticated online offerings to exploit a vast array of digital platform rights.
"This is what I always wanted," UFC president Dana White said. "To be on the network will all the other real big sports, the NFL, MLB, Nascar."
"The Ultimate Fighter" will move to FX in Spring 2012 and air live, which is a huge change from the highly produced version on Spike the past 13 seasons. The show will be shot and edited that week and culminate with a live fight that Friday night. Fans will also be able to have a say in who fights the following week.
"This is revolutionary television right here," White said.
Over the course of one year, that's 24 live in-season fights, plus two "Ultimate Finale" live cards. Add in another six fight nights and you've got your 32 live fight nights.
The deal signifies a massive shift for the UFC as it moves from cable networks to a major broadcast network. The UFC made its television home on Spike TV since the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2005.
The reality show which features up-and-coming mixed martial artists fighting for a UFC contract has been credited with helping launch the UFC brand and the sport of MMA from sideshow to legitimate athletic competition. It was the Season 1 finale of Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonner, a three-round slugfest where TV ratings increased by the round, that solidified the sport.
"'The Ultimate Fighter' season 14 in September will be our last," Spike TV said in a statement. "We are increasing our commitment to distinctive, original series that we own such as 'Auction Hunters' and 'Bar Rescue' which are delivering on our goal to reach a broader audience. Our 6-year partnership with the UFC has been incredibly beneficial in building both our brands, and we wish them all the best in the future."
Since debuting on Spike, UFC has aired live fights on Spike, Versus and Ion Television. Packaged programming such as the "UFC Unleashed" series of past fights and original programming such as behind-the-scenes shows "UFC Primetime" and "In the Moment" have also filled the network's programming schedules. Strikeforce, once a competitor and now owned by the same parent company Zuffa LLC, has broadcast fights on NBC and CBS in the past and has a deal still with Showtime. Bellator, a rising MMA promotion, has a programming deal with MTV2.
"There may be one or two companies that have a 'Do not buy.' but there is a hell of a lot more that have a 'Do Buy' on this sport," said David Hill of Fox Sports.
White said he's looking at the deal as a "fresh start" for everything, including the way they produce pay-per-view events. White said he wants to change the way they do show openings, pre-fight interviews and more aspects of the PPV broadcast. The gladiator opening is "going away," White said.