UPDATED: Inside the EXC-CBS Deal; Where Does the UFC Go From Here?

February 28, 2008

Today Pro Elite and CBS officially announced a multi-year partnership that will see EliteXC events air live in prime time. The deal is a major milestone for the entire MMA industry, marking the first time the sport will air on a major broadcast television network.

“This is wonderful news not just for one brand but for the sport,” IFL President & CEO Jay Larkin told MMAPayout.com late last night. “It is what the sport needs to grow and will open up all kinds of doors for all of us. I congratulate Pro Elite and Gary Shaw and applaud CBS for their foresight.”

Sources tell MMAPayout.com that IMG is the force behind the deal, specifically IMG Media President Chris Albrecht. Albrecht was instrumental in the deal thanks to his relationship with CBS President Les Moonves. You may remember Albrecht as a leading proponent of MMA during his tenure at HBO, initiating negotiations with the UFC that ultimately collapsed over creative control issues.

MMAPayout.com has also learned the rumored financial terms of the agreement. The deal is believed to be a straight time buy, meaning EXC would receive no live rights fees. Pro Elite is already shopping for a title sponsor of the first show at $500,000, plus a commitment to buy a minimum of eight commercial spots from CBS, and a $100,000 investment in Pro Elite.

Pro Elite announced a partnership with IMG Media in late November of 2007. Several weeks ago, speculation within the industry suggested that IMG was on the verge of buying into Pro Elite.

This is the second door opened by the UFC that EXC has walked through. MMAPayout.com was the first to report that negotiations between the UFC and CBS had stalled in December over creative control issues. EXC landed its spot on Showtime after the UFC attempted to use the network for leverage in its failed negotiations with HBO.

In a humorous twist, sources also tell MMAPayout.com that CBS was not aware of its ownership interest in Pro Elite until well into its negotiations with the UFC.

Where this leaves the UFC in its search for a network TV partner is unclear. CBS was the only network whose interest in MMA was reportedly not dependent on the writer’s strike which was recently resolved. MMAPayout.com reported that the UFC received a less than warm reception from NBC earlier this year, however, that may change now that CBS is out of the picture.

Multiple sources have told MMAPayout.com that FOX is believed to have interest in MMA with rumors suggesting that the network even went so far as to make a bid on the entire company during recent negotiations with the UFC. UFC President Dana White alluded to an unidentified network bidder in an interview with Steve Cofield earlier this month.

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