UFC Signs TV Deal With Fox
August 16, 2011
Last week, MMAPayout reported that FOX had emerged as the front-runner in landing a TV deal with the UFC, which was first rumored on ESPN’s MMA Rumor Insider account. Today, Sports Business Daily announced that UFC and FOX have agreed on a seven or eight year deal worth as much as $90 million per year, which also includes 4 events on FOX TV.
Business Sports Daily reports:
As part of the deal, most of the weekly programming that UFC has on Versus and Spike TV will move to FX starting in January. That includes several fight cards, plus shows like the reality series “The Ultimate Fighter.” Fox-owned Fuel also will wind up with some UFC content. But rumors that Fox will rebrand Fuel as a UFC channel are not true, sources said. Fox was attracted to UFC programming, which has produced some of the highest viewership figures – and most attractive demos – on Versus and Spike TV.
Although this was reported by SBD today, no confirmation was given by the UFC. Shortly after the story broke, Fox Sports announced that they will have “one of the biggest announcements in Fox Sports History” during their 1PM press conference scheduled for Thursday in Los Angeles with top executives David Hill, Randy Freer, Eric Shanks, and John Landgraf. Just a few hours later, Dana White announced on his Twitter account that he had arrived in Los Angeles with UFC LW Champ Frankie Edgar.
The deal consists of up to four events on Fox broadcast TV and shoulder programming on Fuel TV and FX. It is speculated that most of the programming currently on Spike TV and Versus such as live MMA events and The Ultimate Fighter will be carried over to FX. Fuel TV is also said to be landing some UFC programming, though it will most likely be syndicated shows and specials.
SBD also goes on to report that “Spike ultimately passed over concern that its UFC shoulder programming stopped growing. Shows like “Unleashed,” “Knockouts” and “Countdown” averaged 1 million viewers in ’05” while averaging only 492,000 viewers this year.
Another key note in the report is that Spike will still hold rights to the UFC library programming through 2012, which makes for a non-fluid transition from Spike TV to the FOX properties.
Many questions remain unanswered at this moment, such as whether the UFC was able to retain production control and which branch the UFC would fall under. If you recall, the UFC was in talks with several networks from 2007 until now, and production control was always an issue. The Fox Entertainment division was willing to give up production control at the time but not the Fox Sports division. From what we know so far, it appears that the UFC will land in the Sports Division, so if there were able to retain full production control, it would be a huge victory for the UFC. The other issue reported back in 2007 was that Fox wanted to buy a stake in the UFC as part of the deal, something the UFC was not willing to do at the time.
In terms of ratings, they will have to produce. A source close to the FX/Bellator negotiations informed MMAPayout that FX and Fox were looking for a promotion that had enough stars in their roster that it would move the needle for them, as well as bring in the coveted 18-34M demo. Balancing the FX and FOX cards while still maintaining it’s primary focus as a PPV company will be interesting to watch in 2012. In terms of ratings, FOX last Saturday night drew a 1.2 rating in the 18-49 demo, for 3.63 million viewers, where the highest rated MMA show on network TV so far has been EliteXC’s Primetime event featuring Kimbo Slice vs James Thompson, which drew an average of 4.3 million viewers and peaked at 6.51 million.
The monumental move also creates a domino effect within the MMA landscape, where if UFC is not able to negotiate keeping one of their brands on Spike TV (PRIDE, WEC, Strikeforce), Bellator would surely be moved from MTV2 to Spike TV to offset the loss of the UFC. At this time, it is believed that Showtime will not renew their contract with Strikeforce, which will be up in the first quarter of 2012, which could mean that the UFC could be shopping Strikeforce over to Spike to prevent a Bellator move and to maintain rights to some UFC properties. Other promotions such as Proelite look to also capitalize on the move, as Versus (NBC Sports) and Showtime/CBS will be left without a major MMA promotion on the networks.
With the latest deal, the UFC jumps over the WWE in terms of TV rights fees by upgrading their current Spike TV deal worth an estimated $35 million-a-year to FOX’s $90 million-a-year. The UFC will now be making nearly three times as much as they are getting from their current Spike TV deal. More on the overall TV landscape among sport properties can be found here.
Current Sport TV Deals – Collegiate Sports, NHL, MLS, WWE, and UFC:
Pac-10: $250 million/Year (Fox/ESPN/ABC) … previously $60 million (Fox/ESPN/ABC)
Big Ten: $220 million/Year (ESPN/ABC)
SEC: $205 million/Year (ESPN/CBS)
NHL: $200 million/Year (NBC/Versus) … previously $77.5 million (Versus)
ACC: $155 million /Year (ESPN)
Big 12: $130 million/Year (Fox)
UFC: $90 million/Year [Meltzer] (Spike TV) … TV deals will be up after 2011 with Spike TV and Versus (4 events).
WWE: $70 million/Year (USA Network, 30-35 million/Year [Meltzer]) … With Syfy included, estimated at around $70+ million/Year.
MLS: $18.5 million / Year (ESPN2, $8.5 million/NBC Sports, $10 million[SBD]) … Asked for $20 million/Year (FSC)…. previously $3 million (FSC)
NOTE: National Sport TV Deals Per-Year: MLB: $702M, NASCAR: $575M, NBA: $930M, NHL: $200M, PGA: $492M, & NFL: $1.4 Billion.