One of the primary discussion points to come out of the reports that the UFC had reached a deal with Fox was the future of the UFC's reality show, The Ultimate Fighter. Much of the debate revolved around the idea that the show had become stagnant, featuring personalities over highly-skilled fighters who could have a successful future inside the Octagon. The UFC confirmed on Thursday during a press conference that a deal had, in fact, been reached, and The Ultimate Fighter would enjoy a revitalization on FX that most fans had not foreseen. Live bouts.
Undoubtedly, the driving force behind this move stems from something Dana White talked about during the press conference. Live events are a major drawing power in the sports television landscape. Fans want to see the action now, not on tape delay when they know damn well they can open up their mobile phone browser or Twitter and find out the outcome within seconds. For many fans, the drama of watching an event as it unfolds is the true drawing aspect of any sport, and television ratings fall in line with that ideology.
It isn't surprising, in retrospect of the announcement, that the UFC and Fox will now move to weekly live events during The Ultimate Fighter seasons. It's shocking that most of us didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel however. With the rise of social media and the notion that everyone has an outlet to speak their piece, live events work hand-in-hand with this new technologically-driven generation. It will more than likely help bring The Ultimate Fighter out of the basement.
The show won't be completely live. Footage of the drama from The Ultimate Fighter house will be included during the Friday night episodes. The bonus for fans, however, is that footage of the coaches' training camps will be included on the show, sort of a The Ultimate Fighter meets UFC Countdown mash-up that will surely draw added attention.
There is still skepticism revolving around whether the show can still rise from its poor ratings. Obviously, there will be an adjustment for the larger audience and the cross-promotion that Fox will be throwing at consumers. I imagine, at first, we'll see higher ratings simply based on those factors. After the dust settles and we get an average rating trend, that's when the true analysis of whether this format works begins.
Talent acquisition is at the forefront of the skepticism. Many fans want to see the absolute best prospects inside the Octagon on the show, and I'm still under the firm belief that implementing that idea is one of the keys to helping the ratings. Unfortunately, Spike TV had other ideas, and Fox will more than likely want to see personable characters in the mix as well.
It's difficult, however, to thwart any sense that this format will work over one problem that can be fixed. The importance of marketability is becoming more and more prominent among younger fighters. The new deal will most certainly stack onto the laundry list of enticing options for prospects as well. If the fact that the UFC is the premier mixed martial arts promotion, has an out-of-competition insurance policy, and offers more money than most regional promotions aren't enough reasons to entice the best up-and-comers, how about the potential for a fight on network television if you can succeed to the highest levels? I have hope that the UFC can find talent that will interest both the casual and hardcore fanbases.
Let's also not forget the secondary benefits of the live shows. The UFC will effectively smother entire blocks of the year with Friday night live events, creating a climate for their competition that is damn near impossible to fight. The events are essentially a Bellator card with better production and a UFC brand, which will draw in even the most casual viewer. If the UFC can fill The Ultimate Fighter seasons with legitimate, hyped prospects, what show are you more than likely going to watch?