The UFC's place as a central part of the strategy for Fox Sports 1 has been made abundantly clear over the past few months. There has even been talk that Jon Jones was approached to headline the first "UFC Fight Night" on the new sports network. Even with Jones the UFC put considerable effort into loading up the first show, scheduled for this Saturday night. Chael Sonnen takes on Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event with other big names like Alistair Overeem and Urijah Faber set for the card as well.
With the show just four days away, there still is no deal for DirecTV, Dish Network or Time Warner Cable to carry the network on its Saturday launch. This could leave a huge portion of the UFC audience without access to the card, a problem much greater than the carriage issues for Fuel TV over the past few years.
Sports Business Daily is reporting that talks are ongoing, but carriers that don't come to a deal will instead continue to broadcast a stripped down version of speed Speed, Fox's racing and car based network.
As with all such negotiations, a big sticking point is the fee to carry the network. Speed -- which FS1 is supposed to replace -- costs $0.23 a month per subscriber. Fox is asking for an initial cost of $0.80 a month from the carriers to start, going up to near $1.50 a month at the end of the multi-year contract. The $0.57 is a big hike to begin with, but the $1.27 hike from the current Speed rate to the end of the deal is huge.
While it may seem like "what's the big deal, pass that buck along to me in my bill?" The obvious problem is that other networks are always negotiating as well. Viacom and DirecTV had a big issue last year that resulted in multiple days with all Viacom stations removed from DirecTV, CBS is having the same issue with Time Warner currently and these kind of showdowns are seeming to become the norm. If every negotiation ends with a 50 to 100% increase in price, customer bills will get even more out of hand than they already are.
One industry source with some insight into the current FS1 negotiations told me Monday night that he personally expects that a deal will be struck for the network to be carried on DirecTV and Dish by Thursday afternoon. He did stress that it's far from a guarantee and does depend on Fox being flexible, especially with the big fee increase they're looking for on the back-end of the deal, but he still expects that it'll get done.
But at least it offers a little bit of hope for the segment of the UFC fanbase currently worried they may not get to see Saturday's event.