Back in August I reported that the ESPN network in the UK -- a premium subscription service that includes live UFC content -- would not be airing the Dan Hardy vs Chris Lytle UFC on Versus card. The reason being ESPN had only contractually agreed to show a certain number of UFC shows per year which included numbered Pay Per View events and Ultimate Fight Nights. Because the UFC's U.S. Versus deal was made after the UFC's U.K. ESPN deal, this additional content would not be included on the ESPN programming schedule which at one point showed the preliminary fights of certain cards as well as a season of The Ultimate Fighter before dropping this coverage.
A last minute deal with another subscription channel 'Premier Sports' to air the UFC event as a Free View show was made, and UK fans were able to watch after all. But only if they were a Sky Television customer.
This weekend Premier Sports is again filling in for ESPN by airing the 'UFC on Fox' event as a Free View broadcast but again Premier Sports is only available through Sky Television.
Similar to the USA where there are multiple cable and satellite providers such as DirecTV and Dish Network, the UK's main providers outside of the commercial and public service network channels consist of Sky Television and Virgin Media with various other smaller companies offering their own services.
Both Sky Television and Virgin Media carry ESPN on subscription, with certain Virgin Media packages including ESPN as a standard sports option. Virgin Media does not at this time carry Premier Sports, and has an approximate customer base of 3.78 million people compared with Sky's 10 million+. Both would be considered low numbers for television carriage in the USA and Canada, but with the smaller UK population (est. 63 million), it's significant.
FX in the UK -- which airs the current season of 'The Ultimate Fighter: Team Mayhem vs Team Bisping' on Thursday nights -- is available on both Sky TV and Virgin Media and it is unknown why a deal wasn't attempted or reached with them so more of the UFC's fanbase could witness Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez attempt his first title defense against No#2 ranked challenger Junior dos Santos. It is possible FX in the UK did not have a gap in their programming schedule or they are simply not geared up for live broadcasts.
UFC has shown its commitment to its UK fan base by getting another deal done with Premier Sports, likely at an expense to themselves by buying air time. But it's still far less than an ideal situation for all involved and it would be interesting to find out what the general opinion of ESPN is among UK UFC fans. The UFC's current deal with ESPN UK ends in August 2012.
After the jump, full schedule and channel listing for the UFC on Premier Sports this weekend.
Premier Sports - Sky Channel 433
Saturday Night, 12th November
12:30am GMT - Free View 'In Depth with Dana White', a half hour interview with the UFC President and American journalist Graham Bensinger.
01:00am GMT - Free View 'UFC Primetime', the 1 hour 24/7 style documentary on Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos that aired on Fox recently and is available through UFC.com.
02:00am GMT - Free View 'Velasquez vs Dos Santos', the main event.