Fox has big plans to launch a new sports cable network and this could be the UFC's chance to get better TV exposure.
Fox is apparently planning to compete directly against ESPN, the king of cable sports. Currently Fox scatters its sports content across a variety of cable and broadcast channels and the Fox Sports Network which is divided by regions across the U.S. They also have Speed, a channel devoted solely to racing as well as FX and Fuel TV which carry UFC programming.
The LA Times reported last week that long-rumored plans to create a single Fox sports channel are coming to fruition:
The deal also clears the way for Fox to use baseball for a new national sports cable channel it is planning to launch in the summer of 2013. Fox's pact with baseball allows it to put as many as 40 games on a nationally distributed cable channel starting in 2014. Fox also received broad rights to baseball highlights that could be used for a sports news program similar to ESPN's "SportsCenter."
While Fox has declined to comment on its planned channel, people familiar with the matter said the company will convert its niche sports channel called Speed into a broad-based sports network.
Besides baseball, Fox will also put NASCAR racing, college football, soccer and Ultimate Fighting on its cable channel. The working name for the channel is Fox Sports 1.
Jonathan Snowden at Bleacher Report thinks this may mean big things for the UFC:
Dana White and the UFC brass must be thrilled. Ratings for the UFC are down across the board, but this proposed change would fix many of the problems that ail a sport that is still finding its way in the mainstream.
Moving from Fuel to an all-sports network like Fox Sports 1 is a huge upgrade. Speed reaches 82 million homes, more than double Fuel's meager 37 million, broadening the potential audience significantly.
And major sport lead-ins like college football and baseball could help bring new viewers to the sport, much the same way current advertising during NFL events on Fox have reaped major rewards.
The Fox deal has brought increased television rights money to the UFC but it has deeply complicated their process for promoting fights. When the UFC was on Spike TV, fans knew where to look for UFC content: on Spike TV. They also knew when to look for UFC content: live fights on Saturdays and sometimes Wednesdays with UFC reruns liable to be on the network at any time. Since Spike TV reaches almost 100 million homes in the U.S., that was a significant amount of exposure for upcoming UFC pay-per-views.
Now UFC fans have to track three channels: Fox TV, FX and Fuel TV. The broadcast Fox only shows live UFC events four times a year and rarely promotes UFC otherwise. FX showed 7 UFC events in 2012: five "Fight Nights" and 2 Ultimate Fighter Finales. Fuel TV airs tons of UFC content but only reaches 36 million homes.
The growing pains of trying to figure out where they fit in Fox Sports' large number of properties have been painful for the UFC and its fans. Hopefully Fox Sports 1 will become a reality and the UFC will be part of it.