The UFC, long in search of a television deal with a major network to push its product to the masses, finally found a suitor in the form of FOX, who will reportedly pay the organization somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million per year to broadcast live events on its main network station along with six Fight Night events on FX, its secondary channel.
Not a bad deal when one considers how much promotion will be thrown behind the mixed martial arts juggernaut. Pre and post-fight shows are in the works, a fresh new format for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) is coming and did I mention four shows on the main FOX station each year?
That's a big deal, folks.
There isn't much not to like in all this. The UFC, which was already extremely accessible before, is even more accessible now. And let's just be honest about it -- the fact that I'll be watching football on Sunday and during the games the announcers will plug an upcoming UFC fight card is pretty fuggin cool.
As with anything new and unknown, though, questions abound regarding what kind of changes are in store. Dana White already stated his intentions to completely make over the presentation of the product, all the way down to getting rid of the traditional Gladiator man introduction to each event.
Humans are xenophobic in nature so there's a natural distrust with what could be coming our way in terms of how aesthetically pleasing the on-screen presentation will be. But really, we're dealing with FOX, a brand leader in such things. This isn't their first rodeo, ladies and germs; these guys know what they're doing.
That's why I'm not worried about that part of the operation. It might take a few minutes to get used to at first, but I expect that ultimately, most of the changes will be for the better.
No, my issue is with the matchmaking process and how it's further complicated by the new network TV wrinkle. Because it's not just an added issue of having to fill up even more fight cards with compelling contests, it's a battle against perception that will have to be navigated skillfully to avoid future issues with fighters drawing power.
The UFC, above all else, is a business built on pay-per-view (PPV). That's the big moneymaker; always has been and likely always will be. White admitted as much during the press conference to announce the deal.
That means all booking decisions must be designed to make the most money on PPV. This would seem like an obvious statement to make but consider how difficult it will be to both create and maintain stars while satisfying the needs of all parties involved.
Take the first FOX show, for instance, scheduled for Nov. 12 in Anaheim, California. At present, the UFC is without a main event for the card, which will be a special two-fight, one hour broadcast with a full preliminary slate underneath it.
It's a slippery slope that must be navigated now because they have to find two meaningful fights that will command an audience and provide a fitting introduction to bring the brand to network TV while not giving away too much to entice viewers to want to buy PPV's, which aren't cheap by any stretch of the imagination.
What makes this so complicated is the fact that even placing a fighter in the main event of a FOX broadcasted card may affect their drawing power on PPV later on. Why? Because viewers will understand, or naturally assume, that if a fighter is placed on free TV, that must mean he is not worthy of being a main eventer on PPV because if he was, that's where he would be.
This is the same problem they've had with Fight Night cards for years now. Simply put, there is no reason to put a high level player as a headliner of a lesser card because that's not maximizing his value. The extension of that is that fans see through it and take these cards less seriously, meaning they oftentimes won't tune in at all because what's the point in watching guys that have indirectly been deemed lesser by the very promotion that is putting them out there?
It's really quite the conundrum.
This will be a bit less of a problem on FOX, or at least I imagine it will, because they'll want to please their new suitors and there is more to be gained by giving away bigger fights on network TV because the audience is so much larger. But that's also an issue that could create problems for their PPV business. If fans know they can wait it out for big fights on free TV instead of paying for them, why won't they?
As it stands now, some of the headlining fights on PPV have been perceived as being unworthy of that status. So what if they were to headline a FOX show? Would that improve or further decrease interest?
The recent UFC 133 event, headlined by former light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz, brought in a reported 310,000 buys. That's not the worst number in the world but it's nowhere near a number that would qualify it to be considered an unmitigated success.
Theoretically, that's the kind of fight that is perfect for the Nov. 12 debut show on FOX. Two well-known names that have shown in the past they have the ability to draw an audience to watch them fight. They would add an air of legitimacy to the card that is essentially nothing more than a vehicle to promote the PPV going down the following Saturday, UFC 139, that will feature the heavyweight championship fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos.
And it's that very fact that creates the sort of negative perception the UFC will have to work to avoid. When watching the FOX show, there will be heavy promotion for the UFC 139 event and in turn, Velasquez vs. Dos Santos. We will be told that that is the fight that is truly worth our money and we should shell out the considerable coin to purchase it.
But in saying that, they will indirectly be saying the Evans vs. Ortiz fight isn't worth our money, which is why it's being given away on free TV. And how does that affect things later on? Because if you want Evans or Ortiz to headline a future PPV event, why would fans have any incentive to pay for it when they've already been indirectly told those two men weren't worthy of their money before?
The obvious answer in this instance would be that Evans performance, which was really quite amazing, earned him a shot at the light heavyweight championship against the winner of Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson. No matter the outcome of that fight, Evans vs. Jones or Evans vs. Jackson will most definitely be worth paying for.
And hopefully all the viewers who tuned in to watch Rashad earn that chance will want to follow along and pay the cost it takes to see if he can follow it up by winning the title.
Of course, that's the best case scenario and one of the ways in which they can pay off giving away big fights on free TV. But will they be able to do something along those lines often enough that it will pay off in the end?
It's not impossible to create stars on free TV and translate them into big draws on PPV. In fact, it's something they absolutely must do in order to consider this network TV deal a success. And if there is any promotion on Earth that can make this happen, it's the UFC.
To me, that's the most interesting aspect of this UFC on FOX deal. How they handle booking the shows and how it will affect their PPV business.