It's been clear to anyone paying attention for a while that mixed martial arts are a big deal in the American television business. Now it's official as the New York Times has devoted a major long-form Sunday news piece to analyzing the battle between the UFC and Viacom to control and profit from the sport. Here's a taste:
In one corner is Ari Emanuel, the Hollywood superagent who represents the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the premier cage-fighting league. In the other corner is Philippe P. Dauman, the urbane chief executive of the media conglomerate Viacom.
From 2005 to 2011, the U.F.C. was shown on Spike, a Viacom channel, where it became a ratings powerhouse. Then, in 2011, in renegotiating the U.F.C.'s deal, Mr. Emanuel asked for a 50 percent fee increase and made other demands. When Viacom balked, the U.F.C. struck a $700 million, seven-year deal with Fox Sports to show its fights on Fox, FX and Fuel, all owned by News Corporation.
But Mr. Dauman counterpunched, and Viacom decided to enter the fight business itself. In fall 2011, the company paid around $50 million for a majority stake in Bellator Fighting Championships, according to people with knowledge of the deal who did not want to be identified discussing internal company business.
One of the real nuggets in the piece explains some of the back-room negotiations as Spike TV tried to keep the UFC:
As talks soured between Mr. Emanuel, the U.F.C. and Viacom, Mr. Dauman and Mr. Dooley approved the purchase of Bellator. A person involved in the negotiations said the U.F.C., in addition to the rights increase, had wanted to own a 50 percent equity stake in Spike and to maintain too much control over which fights the league broadcast on pay-per-view. Under the Fox deal, the U.F.C. still gives its biggest fights to pay-per-view first.
Read the article, it's a can't miss when the country's paper of record turns its attentions to the behind the scenes of the MMA business.