Sports Business Daily broke the news today that the UFC had signed a long term deal with FOX, including the option for up to four events yearly on broadcast television:
The multiyear deal would mark the first time the UFC will have consistent airtime on a broadcast network. Fox execs refused to comment on the deal, but sources with knowledge of the negotiations said bidding had gone as high as $90M per year. The Fox deal is believed to be for seven or eight years. 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."
It's an exciting time - but also a very dangerous one. Broadcast television opens the sport up to more viewers than ever. But it also comes with its own set of expectations and demands. Is the UFC up to the challenge?
Last week, for example, FOX averaged 4.68 millions viewers. To put that in context, the UFC managed just over 700,000 viewers for their last two events on cable's Versus network. Getting those numbers up will require some significant work. Even at their very best, the UFC garnered 4.7 million viewers for a loaded UFC 75 card that included a title unification bout between Quinton Jackson and Dan Henderson. That bout, and its epic ratings number, came at a time when UFC programming was much hotter than it is now.
I don't doubt the UFC can draw a big number - if they are willing to provide premium content. Second tier fighters aren't going to work on broadcast television. A major fight with one of their established stars like Georges St. Pierre or Brock Lesnar could provide network level ratings. But this, as UFC President Dana White likes to say, is definitely not "business as usual."