Let's presume the reports are true and that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has signed a deal with the Fox networks to air four events a year on Fox's broadcast channel and the remainder of their programming on FX and Fuel TV.
What's that likely to mean for the UFC? Here's a few things we already know:
- The UFC will have a bigger platform to promote their stars and pay-per-views
It goes without saying that the Fox broadcast network draws more viewers than Spike TV -- 4.68 million to ~1 million -- but it's worth adding that the FX channel is in more homes and does better numbers than Spike TV too. The combination of cable and broadcast as part of the Fox package made them a more attractive partner than Spike. Only NBC/Versus and CBS/Showtime offered comparable reach and flexibility.
- The UFC will be under increased pressure to deliver big ratings
Fox's reach and ratings are a double edged sword for the UFC. They'll have a chance to reach more people sure, but they'll also be under big pressure to deliver much bigger audiences than they've delivered all but a few times in their television history.
- The UFC will have to choose between pay-per-view and TV ratings
If the UFC is going to succeed on broadcast television, they'll have to give Fox some big fights. The kind of fights that get the media and fans talking. The kind of fights people plan TV watching parties around. The kind of fights that anchor lucrative pay-per-view broadcasts. The UFC basically prints money with their thriving PPV business, but if they want to succeed with Fox, they're going to have to spare a Georges St. Pierre or Brock Lesnar fight or two for the network.
- The UFC's programming will need a shot in the arm
The UFC got pretty stale on Spike TV. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The Ultimate Fighter has desperately needed reinvention for several seasons now and the declining ratings make it obvious. UFC Unleashed, etc suffered from Spike basically putting them in heavy rotation and have become the video equivalent of wallpaper. Zuffa will need to deliver a better product to do the kind of numbers Fox will need to see.
See that fork up ahead? The UFC's going to have to decide if they want to remain an extremely lucrative PPV niche sport or if they want to really go mainstream. Mainstream sports make their money off TV licensing deals, not PPV buys. It will be very interesting to see if the UFC brass are willing to forego short-term profits for a longer-term play for much bigger audiences.