Entertainment Industry

Category: Spike

Fox Sports announces deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship


Fox Sports on Thursday announced a seven-year deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship that brings mixed martial arts fights to the Fox broadcast network four times a year, and 32 live Friday night events on the company's FX cable channel.

Fox declined to disclose financial terms, but the Sports Business Daily reported the multi-year package was worth as much as $90 million.

The deal is significant because it elevates the sport of mixed martial arts to the television mainstream.  Fox has become the home of big-ticket championship events: broadcasting baseball's World Series, football's Super Bowl and auto racing's Daytona 500.

"This is where I wanted to be, and this is the deal that I wanted," Dana White, UFC president, said during a morning news conference at a Fox Sports television studio in Los Angeles. "It took a long time to happen."

The two groups have been in talks for almost a decade. Fox Sports Chairman David Hill conceded that it took a few years for him to recognize the potency of mixed martial arts. He and others over the age of 50 grew up watching boxing, he said, adding that today's youth is more attuned to the "three-dimensional" nature of mixed martial arts.

In addition, during his tenure overseeing programming at DirecTV, which offered pay-per-view mixed martial arts, "We saw the widespread popularity of the sport," Hill said. "This group has taken a little niche sport and in 10 years they have made it to a mainstream sport.... The growth and potential of this is explosive."

UFC's television homes have been on Comcast Corp.'s Versus channel and Viacom Inc.'s Spike. 

" 'The Ultimate Fighter' Season 14 in September will be our last," Spike said in a statement. "Our six-year partnership with the UFC has been incredibly beneficial in building both our brands, and we wish them all the best in the future."

The Fox deal provides Zuffa, owner of the UFC brand, with a platform on more networks -- and more prominence. The sport will make its prime-time debut on the Fox broadcast network Saturday, Nov. 12.

FX will carry Friday night fights and the retooled "The Ultimate Fighter" program beginning next year. Fox's niche sports Fuel channel and Spanish-language Fox Deportes also will host pre- and post-fight shows and other events.

Founded in 1993, Ultimate Fighting Championship has seen muscular growth since it was acquired by Zuffa in 2001. UFC's flirtation with Fox Sports dates to the summer of 2002 when Fox Sports Net carried the company's first non-pay-per-view event on basic cable television, pulling in a large audience.

For FX, the sport will help to lure more young male viewers to the channel, which has built its reputation as a leader in edgy programming with "The Shield," "Rescue Me" and the quirky fan-favorite comedy "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." 

"We can now stand toe-to-toe with anyone in our competitive set," John Landgraf, general manager of the FX Networks, said during the news conference. In the past, such rivals as USA Network and TNT have rounded out their offerings and boosted their ratings with sports. 

"The UFC," Landgraf said, "is finally going to put us on a level playing field with our competitors."

-- Meg James

Photo of UFC's Junior Dos Santos (left) of Brazil and Shane Carwin of Colorado during a June British Columbia fight weigh-in.  Credit: Darryl Dyck / Associated Press

Lifetime and VH1 look for boost by borrowing from siblings


You'd be forgiven if you thought you were watching MTV or Spike and it turned out you were watching VH1 or if your TV said Lifetime but you could have sworn it was History Channel.

Both Lifetime, which is owned by Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Hearst Corp., and Viacom's VH1 have been borrowing shows from their sibling channels in an effort to juice their sagging ratings before the end of the year.

At Lifetime, repeats of History Channel's reality hit "Pawn Stars" have been popping up. Given that Lifetime's new chief -- Nancy Dubuc -- kept her job as head of History Channel as well, this move is hardly a surprise. "Pawn Stars" would not seem to be an ideal fit with Lifetime, but Dubuc wants to broaden the network's audience a little, and the hope is that viewers who might not normally check out Lifetime will stumble onto "Pawn Stars" and stick around. However, the risk is that Lifetime's core female audience will be alienated. Given the channel's ratings slump, however, that may be of little concern to the new team there.

VH1, meanwhile, has raided Spike and MTV's closet for reruns of "Entourage" and "Jersey Shore," respectively. Like Lifetime, VH1 has been in a prolonged ratings slump, and the hope is that borrowing those shows for a couple of weeks will get it some new viewers. A VH1 spokesman said it was a way to "test out show formats and formulas with our viewers and help drive promotion for the series back to our sister channel."

On the one hand, it is hard to argue with Lifetime and VH1 using programing from their siblings in an effort to jump-start themselves.

But the moves also continue the disturbing trend of cable channels being indistinguishable from one another. Shuttling shows from one network to another is different from when a cable network such as Spike shells out millions of dollars for reruns of a show such as HBO's "Entourage" or TBS does the same for "Big Bang Theory."

What Lifetime and VH1 are doing may have the cable operators who pay to carry them wondering why they are shelling out so much to be served leftovers.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Entourage." Credit: Claudette Barius/ HBO


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