The Importance of the UFC's UK Television Deal

The UFC's new television deal in the U.K. could portend similar future deals with U.S. networks.

Kevin Iole says the UK deal will serve as a guinea pig for U.S. networks interested in airing UFC events:

"In the time slot we’ll be on, FIVE has been averaging between 600,000 and 2.5 million viewers," Zelaznik said. "To give you a perspective of how big that is, our best-rated shows on ESPN and Setanta did just under 300,000 viewers."


The deal is good news for fight fans not only in the U.K., but in the U.S. and around the world. You can be assured that network television executives will be paying close attention to the ratings and the reception "UFC Main Event" receives from sponsors.

High ratings and strong advertiser acceptance will make it more likely that a U.S. network will give the UFC an opportunity.


But a successful launch will have far-reaching implications. A successful run could help open doors to countries where the television and sports establishment still keep MMA at arm’s length. And in the U.S., it will unquestionably be an impetus for a broadcast network to reach a deal with the UFC if things go well.

The markets operate very differently, but it does stand to reason if the UFC can succeed in the U.K. under the terms of the new deal in that timeslot, the UFC in the U.S. should easily be able to duplicate that success. Hard to find fault in the deal with FIVE, although some certainly tried to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But there is another reason to find the deal favorable. This is further case of the popularity of MMA being little more than The UFC Show. As Zuffa expands its influence in the British Isles, the rest of the MMA scene in the U.K. is hanging on for dear life:

By all measurements, mixed martial arts has never been more popular on this side of the Atlantic. Media coverage, talent and public awareness progressively rise, and yet, despite these increases, domestic promotions are finding it harder than ever to attract the fans that play the video game, buy the magazines and watch the UFC.

On June 2, a press conference held in decadent, West London surroundings heralded a new dawn for British MMA. The British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) sought to bring cohesion to the splintered UK scene with a trilogy of televised events. They would culminate in an end-of-year card, on which six definitive British champions would be crowned.

Two months and one event later, BAMMA is on the verge of collapse. Their website has been taken off-line, their events have been cancelled and official statements are eerily absent.

Sounds familiar to an extent, doesn't it?

I think the regional show bubble in America is going to pop, too. It won't look the same as the U.K's and there will always be regional promoters at the very local levels able to put on affordable, decent shows. The bubble here actually still has a little growing to do as promoters in states new to MMA regulation try their hand at the game. Eventually, though, the regional MMA business will have four or five reliable go-tos complimented by a turnstyle of MMA promotions able to string together only two or three events before running out of money.

It's the UFC's world. We just live in it.

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