Canada's Network TV Landscape

October 27, 2008

Roger’s Sportsnet Poised To Lead MMA Coverage in Canada

He’s perhaps the most influential referee in the sport, he’s the man who coined the phrase “let’s get it on!,” and he’s also the man who made waves through the Canadian MMA community earlier this month when he announced his departure from The Fight Network [TFN].

To many an MMA fan in Canada, TFN is considered to be the only source for consistent MMA media coverage in the country; but, sadly, “Big” John McCarthy’s departure, in addition to the loss of their UFC content privileges, and rumoured financial trouble, have seriously put the broadcast network’s future in doubt.

All of this begs the question, if not TFN in Canada then whom? The answer, while not immediately apparent, seems to be Roger’s Sportsnet.

While Sportsnet has long played second-fiddle to the mighty sports juggernaut that is TSN, they now appear poised to gain the upper hand with MMA – a sport that is increasingly attracting greater amounts of attention, not only from viewers, but also advertisers.

To start, Sportsnet has – for a major sports network – been granted unparalleled access to the UFC. In fact, so much so that they were able to broadcast UFC 89 live and in HD, a full six hours before any other network in North America. Sportsnet’s relationship with the UFC also gives them an opportunity to broadcast Ultimate Fight Nights, episodes of The Ultimate Fighter, and full, week-long coverage of UFC PPV events. Sportsnet viewers are getting the full gamut of fighter interviews, press conferences, weigh-ins, and fight predictions the week leading up to a major UFC PPV – all in addition to a Sunday afternoon wrap-up.

The network is also succeeding where others have failed. Contrary to the myopic approach that most sports outlets have taken to MMA, Sportsnet’s coverage is not exclusive to the UFC. In what seems like an ironic twist of sorts, Sportsnet’s access to the UFC has actually provided a platform to launch a more wide-ranging coverage of the entire sport of MMA. This is particularly evident online; where the MMA enthusiast can find an array of content and information for a variety of promotions.

I had the privilege of speaking with Sportsnet’s chief MMA expert, Joe Ferraro, last week and he’s promised “explosive stuff” from the network in 2009. Ferraro emphasized the need for an increasingly global approach to MMA with regard to Sportsnet’s future coverage. He also noted that, “the real difficulty for [Sportsnet] is attracting the hardcore fan. We’ve already got the casual fan via the rest of our programming.” He then added, “and in that sense, I suppose [Sportsnet’s] challenge is the exact opposite of MMA’s.”

And if there were ever any doubt as to the current demand for MMA content and MMA-related advertising within Canada, Ferraro put that debate to rest, “our [advertising slots] are bought-out almost immediately. [Advertisers] understand the value of reaching the MMA demographic.”

Other Networks Need To Wake Up

And who would have ever figured Sportsnet to snatch the MMA ball and run with it?

My immediate reaction to TFN’s decreasing role led me to Canadian sports juggernaut, TSN. The subsidiary of CTVglobemedia Inc., TSN [The Sports Network] is the number one specialty channel in Canada and essentially the Canadian equivalent of ESPN – it even has its own Sportscentre.

Unfortunately, TSN’s only MMA offerings to date have been tape delay broadcasts of WEC events (sometimes 2-3 weeks behind). Their programming content seems to reflect an older demographic as they’re heavy on the NHL, the Canadian Football League, and Tough Man competitions (if you can believe it). Within the last year, however, they’ve won bids for the right to broadcast Monday Night Football and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Moreover, TSN’s online content is nearly non-existent. They’ve got a wealth of information and blogs dedicated to just about every other major sport – including boxing – yet scarcely more than an Associated Press copy-paste mention of the UFC and absolutely nothing on any other promotion except if it involves Kimbo Slice.

To be fair, however, TSN is anything but short for programming these days and it’s entirely plausible that increasing their MMA content could threaten the company’s existing audience. And why bite the hand that feeds you?

So, needless to say, I then turned to the other remaining sports media outlet, The Score. The former broadcast home of the Alberta-based Hardcore Fighting Championship and Calvin Ayre’s Bodog Fights, the score is a low-budget network that fills much of its programming line-up with looping coverage of sports highlights, poker tournaments, and a mix of European football and NCAA programming. They also recently signed a distribution deal with Scott Coker’s Strikeforce. Interesting, but enough? Not nearly – especially considering they have zero online MMA presence.

Conclusion

Yes, there is an incumbent on the MMA scene – its name is Roger’s Sportsnet and it’s led by one of the better analysts in the sport today, Showdown Joe Ferraro.

They might not be the 24/7 combat channel that TFN was, but be rest assured that they’re about to set a major sports network precedent for MMA coverage in the future.

For more information about Roger’s Sportsnet and its MMA content, check out www.sportsnet.ca/mma.

Also, be sure to listen into Showdown Joe Ferraro’s next podcast through www.showdown.ca/.

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