99.4% of all sporting events are watched live. While people record their favorite sitcom on DVR, and then fast-forward through those annoying adds, not many people are doing that with sporting events. It is a big part of the reason that according to Forbes magazine, ESPN is valued at $40B dollars, and generates around $10B in revenue yearly. But they have plenty of competition coming from Fox, NBC, and CBS who are all beginning to throw some muscle into competing sports networks.
Anyone reading Bloodyelbow knows UFC has been tagged to be a cornerstone of FOXSports 1, along with College Football, Basketball, MLB, and some NFL programming. This deal will give UFC a stable channel to call it's home for at least the last 5 years of their current 7 year deal with FOX. Fox Sports 1 should get off to a great start as it kicks off on Aug 17th with an UFC event, and will then roll right into College Football programming and plenty of promos during NFL games on FOX throughout the fall. You can bet that ESPN, NBC Sports network, and CBS Sports network will all be watching very closely to the ratings that UFC and MMA generate over the next few years, as they look at ways to grab market share in an ever crowding environment.
UFC is not the only MMA organization benefitting from the increasing value of live sports programming. Viacom saw the value and was willing to buy into Bellator, and place it prominently on their SPIKE network. It will be very interesting to see if Bellator remains on SPIKE long term, or if Viacom eventually plans on moving it to help their CBS Sports Network that generally isn't viewed as being as strong as the competition at this point. NBC Sports has picked up six World Series of Fighting shows per year for the next three years. While NBC sports is only available in 80 Million homes compared to over 100M for ESPN, and the expected 90+M for FS1 it is still a valuable commodity and great exposure for a MMA organization that is less than a year old.
AXS TV was one of the first to plug into MMA, and in an interview today Mark Cuban the owner said that he has no plans to change his strategy of showing promotions like RFA, XFC, and Legacy FC. This is good news for these regional organizations that fit in the class right below Bellator. I think that lower regional MMA organizations will also find a way to benefit from all the networks out there. The Los Angeles Dodgers have announced their plans to launch their own regional sports network to show Dodger's games, and sports programming throughout the year. This brings the number of regional sports networks in Southern California to six. New York has the Yankees regional network (YES), SNY, MSG, and MSG +, all of these channels need to fill sports programming 24/7, and regional MMA is going to look very attractive as a consistent product that can show case local fighters and draw eyeballs when needed.
Also interesting for MMA fans is the expansion of College conferences owning their own networks. Right now the Big 10, PAC 12, and University of Texas (Longhorn Network) have locked down deals to have their own channels. This is more sports programming that will be needed to fill time on these channels. That can only be good for College wrestling. I was stunned to find while overseas in February for work that I checked into my hotel room and turned on my TV just in time to see the Penn State vs. Iowa dual meet. It had been picked up by Fox Sports International from the Big Ten Network (which is partially owned by FOX). For years young wrestlers, and fans of the sport have had limited opportunities to watch wrestling but now through these Conference networks, and the sheer volume of programming required by all the 24/7 sports networks it will almost certainly find its way onto TV on a regular basis. I'd also say that USA wrestling would have to be more inept than even some of their recent actions have shown to not get some kind of TV deal for the Beat the Streets event, National Team trials, and the World Championships with-in the next year or two... but I'm sure Mike Riordan is not holding his breath.
The growing competitive market for live sports programming offers a great opportunity for MMA organizations, and fans in general. MLB, and NFL have seen their value sky rocket as ESPN, FOX, CBS, and NBC bid for their rights. With more and more networks coming on the scene, sports like MMA stand to profit. UFC while not threatened now will also have to maintain a high standard, because it is going to get harder and harder to justify spending $45-$60 a month on PPVs when more and more free MMA is available to occupy the casual, and hardcore fans time.