UFC Officially Announces Historic FOX TV Deal

August 19, 2011

Earlier today, the UFC and FOX held a press conference in Los Angeles to officially announce that UFC and FOX have agreed on a seven year deal worth as much as $100 million per year, which includes 4 events on FOX as well as shoulder programming on FX and Fuel TV.

Today, Ultimate Fighting Championship® (UFC), the world’s leading mixed martial arts organization and No. 1 Pay-Per-View event provider in the world, finds its perfect media match in FOX, the No. 1 television network in the country. FOX Sports Media Group, the umbrella entity representing FOX Networks Group’s wide array of sports platforms, has reached a multi-year, multi-media rights agreement with Zuffa, LLC, owner of the UFC brand.

The landmark agreement, which puts UFC on par with many of the country’s professional sports organizations, delivers four live events in prime time or late night each year to the FOX broadcast network, home to the country’s biggest sports events, including the Super Bowl, World Series and Daytona 500. The first live event airs Saturday, Nov. 12 at 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT. Additional programming on multiple FOX networks launches January 2012 and includes live fights, pre and post shows, countdown shows, UFC Unleashed, UFC Primetime, the UFC Knockout series, Best of Pride, weigh-in specials, and much more original content from extensive Zuffa archives.  The agreement also provides for developing robust mobile and authenticated online offerings to exploit a vast array of digital platform rights.

In spring 2012, THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER, UFC’s signature weekly reality show moves to FX, FOX’s general entertainment cable network now in more than 99 million homes.  With the move to FX, the show will feature a newly-designed format. FX is also set to televise another four-to six-live UFC events annually, with a mixture of additional events and programs heading to FSMG cable networks including FUEL TV.

“We’re excited to be part of the FOX family,” says Dana White, UFC President.   “The UFC is finally where it belongs on the number one network in the country and aligned with the most prestigious sports properties in the world.  I’ve always said that the UFC will be the biggest sport in the world and with this relationship it will become a reality.”

“My brother Frank, Dana and I always believed that our passion for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts would help us to build the UFC into a successful global brand and ultimately make it one of the premier sports properties in the world,” said Lorenzo Fertitta, Chairman and CEO of the UFC.  “The partnership with FOX is a major step in making this a reality and also builds on the great relationship that we already have established with FOX in Latin America, Australia and Europe.”

“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.”

“UFC’s growth over the past decade is nothing short of phenomenal and it has become one of the marquee sports in this country,” said John Landgraf, President and General Manager, FX Networks.  “There is a reason for its rising popularity.  It features some of the greatest athletes in the world, and we believe it will be a terrific addition to our schedule and look forward to our relationship.”

Founded in 1993, UFC has been on a meteoric rise since 2001 when it was acquired by Zuffa, LLC, owned by Lorenzo Fertitta, Frank Fertitta III and Dana White.  UFC’S first brush with FOX Sports goes back to June 2002, when Fox Sports Net carried UFC’s first non-pay-per-view event on basic cable television, and delivered what was then its largest audience to date.  Through cooperation with state athletic commissions, consistent rules were established and refined for competition through officiating, judging, the addition of weight divisions, length of rounds and better equipment.  Combined with an unyielding devotion to fighter safety, the UFC has vaulted to mainstream status in the minds of US sports fans attracting major sponsors such as Bud Light, Dodge and Harley Davidson.

UFC has displayed tremendous growth in digital and social media consumption. Unique visitors to UFC.com tripled between 2006 and 2010 (2.1 million to 6.3 million), and UFC established local web sites in 10 countries and Latin America.  Using a unique blend of incentives, promotions and original content, including live bouts, UFC has seen its number of Facebook friends increase from 800,000 in 2009 to 6.1 million at present, outpacing the NFL, MLB and the NHL.  UFC currently ranks second to the NBA in social media followers among the major sports organizations.  Additionally, UFC President Dana White regularly interacts with over 1.5 million fans that follow him on Twitter.

Mixed martial arts skews much younger than more established US sports, which ranged from age 43 for Super Bowl XLIV to 61 for horse racing’s Triple Crown in 2010.  Thus far, the median age for UFC on Spike in 2011 is 36 and 56% of UFC fans fall into the adult 18-34 demographic. Live UFC programming performs extremely well in the advertiser attractive, hard-to-reach male 18-34 demographic, with live event programing averaging a 1.53 rating, making it a top-20 cable show this year.

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Clip of Press Conference:

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UFC on FOX Promo:

 

Payout Perspective:

Here are my key notes from the press conference:

– The deal is for 7 tears and estimated to be worth around $100 million per year.

– The UFC will broadcast 32 live events a year (24 live events from TUF on FX, 4 events on FOX, 6 events on FX (2 TUF  Events will air as part of “Fight Nights”)

– The first UFC on FOX will take place on 11/12 (same day as Pacquiao vs Marquez) and will only televise 2 fights in a one hour special. Will finish fights before big boxing bout between Pacquiao vs Marquez, as the event is scheduled to start at 9PM ET.

– UFC 139: Velasquez vs Dos Santos will take place one week after first UFC on FOX. Hope is that they can advertise their upcoming show.

– Cross promotion is expected from all Fox networks and programming, including NFL, NASCAR, MLB, etc. The first few UFC on Fox commercials were already aired last night during Fox’s NFL Thursday game.

– Hill states that their sponsors are 100% behind UFC, or else they woudlnt’ have done it.

– FX’s Landgraf states that there is an 80% overlap among UFC and FX viewers.

– According to Luke Thomas from MMA Nation, the deal “does not affect online distribution deals to Roku, Yahoo!, XBOX, or – UStream. Nothing changes”

– The UFC will maintain their event production, but pre and post event shows will be handled by FOX, which will most likely utilize newly hired Gus Johnson and Fox Sports mainstay Jay Glazer.

– There will be changes to the production from this point on. The Gladiator opening will be one of the first casualties of the huge overhaul as the UFC tries to take their product to the “next level”.

– The Ultimate Fighter will be broadcasted on FX and will be live.

– Fox Sports website still has Boxing coverage under MMA tab. I assume they are still going through their transitional stages.

Dana White: “The Wall Street Journal article about buying G4 ignited other networks to jump in and got this deal with FOX done.”

Lorenzo Fertitta: “It could be Bellator, ProElite, multiples….Spike has made it clear that they will be competing with us.”

– Spike can air any old UFC programming through 2012, so that means Spike TV will be able to use old UFC footage to counter-program UFC or can be used as a lead-in for another MMA promotion Spike picks up.

Adam Swift: “FX would have murderer’s row with NFL on TH, UFC on Fri, and College FB on Sat. Own 18-34M. Great for advertising packages.”

– Shanks mentions that early on, there were some discussions of re-branding Fuel TV.

Michelle Steele of Bloomberg told MMAPayout: “Having live events on a real deal *broadcast* network will definitely be a gamechanger for UFC”.

Dave Meltzer from Yahoo: “The move to Friday puts the UFC in direct competition with its rival entertainment product, World Wrestling Entertainment, which airs “SmackDown” on the Syfy channel the same night.”… “While both brands publicly note the difference between sport and entertainment, WWE’s pay-per-view numbers have declined at the same time the UFC’s have increased, and even WWE President Vince McMahon has acknowledged that its pay-per-views take a hit when on the same weekend as a UFC event, something they now do their best to avoid.”

Spike TV’s Press Release Regarding UFC/FOX TV Deal: “The Ultimate Fighter” season 14 in September will be our last. 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. ”

– According to @FOXSportsLouD: Almost 45K watched #UFC on FOX press conference today on www.FOXSports.com & www.facebook.com/foxsports

– FOX’s stance on MMA has drastically changed in the past 3 years. In 2008, Fox’s Hill stated that “What’s totally abhorrent about it — I’ve said this to people running it — is that one guy will be down and the other one can keep hitting him.” Fox Sports President Ed Goren said this about broadcasting MMA back in 2008, “We don’t need money that badly.” Pretty drastic change in 3 years.

– MMA’s and UFC’s first live fights on TV was UFC 37.5, about nine years ago in 2002. The event was televised as part of Fox Sports Net “Best Damn Sports Show Period”.

10 Responses to “UFC Officially Announces Historic FOX TV Deal”

  1. Jack Frost on August 19th, 2011 3:56 AM

    I love the promo and the whole deal sounds great but what about PPV prelims? Can not lose those.

  2. juan on August 19th, 2011 7:00 AM

    How does this compare to the current Spike deal, in terms of # of fights?
    How many real (non-TUF exhibition fights) does UFC put on TV now, compared to how many next year with Fox?
    Sounds like there will be 8 real fight nights — 4 on Fox and 4 on FX. And then 24 TUF exhibition fights on FX.
    Am I reading that correctly?

  3. Machiel Van on August 19th, 2011 7:24 AM

    Dana mentioned that the prelims would be headed to FX. I don’t think that they count towards the live event total either. Also, I thought that it was said at press conference that 6 live events would go to FX and 4 to Fox, so in addition to the Ultimate Fighter episodes that would bring the total to 34 “events”. 24 regular season TUF shows and two Finale events, makes sense since there are usually 13 “episodes” per season including the Finales. So that’s 4 shows on Fox, 4 other live events on FX, two Ultimate Fighter Finale cards on FX, and 24 live episodes of TUF. This is a great deal for the UFC; I believe it’s better than they could’ve done with NBC, especially since “NBC Sports” will be a new brand and will take time to gain awareness, whereas FX is an established network that already strongly caters to the 18-34 male demographic.

  4. juan on August 19th, 2011 7:52 AM

    This deal has to be bad news for WWE. I know both companies like to pretend they aren’t in competition with each other, but it’s clear they overlap a lot audience-wise. So at least half of all Friday nights each year will have a live TUF fight on FX, right? Directly up against Smackdown on SyFy.

  5. Jose Mendoza on August 19th, 2011 12:02 PM

    Juan, Machiel:

    Just updated write-up with more quotes and clarification on your questions,

    “The UFC will broadcast 32 live events a year (24 live events from TUF on FX, 4 events on FOX, 6 events on FX (2 TUF Events will air as part of “Fight Nights”)

  6. Jason Cruz on August 19th, 2011 8:43 PM

    Juan,

    Looks like the WWE is going to air Smackdown live this Tuesday night to gage audience interest in preparing to compete with the UFC. The WWE and the UFC seem to have had an amicable relationship but with the direct competition we will see how long that will last. Not sure if it will rise to the old WWE vs. WCW “Monday Night Wars” but if the UFC takes a chunk of WWE audience, you can expect the WWE to do something.

    http://www.cagesideseats.com/2011/8/18/2371477/wwe-announces-smackdown-will-air-live-tuesday-aug-30-on-syfy-on-the

  7. juan on August 20th, 2011 11:50 AM

    Jason,

    Yeah, the WWE going live is a likely reaction, although the WWE’s traveling circus business model will have to be tweaked a lot. Right now they do the live monday night Raw and Tuesday Smackdown taping in bigger cities, then use the weekend to travel to the smaller cities or do a quick intl tour.

    Airing the taped show on Friday splits up the week, and gives the audience a couple days to renew their interest. If they tried to air live on Fridays then that makes their logistics a lot harder, especially intl tours.

    Whether the traveling circus business model makes sense today is another question. I’m always amazed at the sheer # of shows WWE puts on each week. They seem willing to go to every small town in America and Canada and perform in front of a few thousand people. But they don’t televize all those tiny house shows. They generally don’t try and broadcast the international tours either.

  8. Bill Hardiek on August 21st, 2011 10:59 AM

    I wonder what will happen with the Facebook fights? Will the UFC be able to still show prelims on FB? This has been a great vehicle to show the undercard and I dont want to lose out on these fights.

  9. Machiel Van on August 21st, 2011 11:34 AM

    Facebook fights should remain in place. All they do is help to drive up interest in the fighters, and thus interest in the UFC product, the same product that Fox hopes to make money off of. Fighters on the Facebook prelims could potentially go on to fight on one of the Fox or FX shows, so I can’t imagine Fox would have a problem with them.

  10. Jose Mendoza on August 21st, 2011 11:52 PM

    Bill, Machiel Van:

    UFC put fights on Facebook because they had no TV outlet to put them on. If I were them, I would put all prelims on Fuel TV to try and increase their reach (only in 32M households and most providers don’t carry the channel in HD).

    I also heard that the number of viewers for the Facebook fights were very low, so I see them putting fights on FB as a last resort. One of the big reasons FOX made this deal is to bring that 18-34M demo to all their properties and to grow reach and subscription fees for (FX and Fuel TV). UFC fans are so loyal, that if Dana White says we are putting all prelims on FuelTV, I bet Fuel will have a pretty big jump in ratings and demand.

    danawhite: Prelims, live events and other programing will be on @fueltv get ready for tons of new shows on fuel!”

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