Yesterday was historic for MMA. Going one step further than the EliteXC and Strikeforce deals with CBS and Showtime, the UFC's deal with Fox will be all encompassing with coverage on Fox, FX, Fuel, and Fox Sports. With rumors of a failed renewal with Showtime for Strikeforce, it seems appropriate to ask where do the rest of the promotions stand with broadcasting partners. We know for a fact that Spike wants to remain in the MMA business. They made it incredibly clear that want to remain in the MMA business to Lorenzo Fertitta despite the press release stating otherwise. Spike has met with with the executives of Bellator and have shown interest in their product.
The biggest question is what happens with NBC Sports/Versus, who ramped up their coverage for the UFC in recent months. NBC picked up the license for the MLS and already held the license for the NHL, a deal with the UFC would have made it an immediate player in sports coverage. Now, just days after UFC on Versus 5, NBC is left in the cold with nothing to show for it. Yes, they will be airing the show in Washington, D.C. but after that, there don't appear to be any more plans to run UFC events. So with Spike, NBC/Versus, and Showtime all available, what does this mean for the other promotions that are currently without a home? Let's take a look.
Strikeforce: Many of us are assuming that once the deal with Showtime ends in 2012, the promotion will be folded up and the best fighters under contract will be transferred to the UFC. However, lately there have been reports that the company is in the process of being revamped to stop the financial bleeding. The supposed plan is for Strikeforce to become a development league of sorts to allow fighters to build up confidence to make it to the big show (UFC) and fighters who have fallen on hard times to have an ability to rebuild.
The benefit would be to keep these fighters under contract and ensure other companies can't use "Former UFC fighter" as a means for promotion. The UFC's deal with NBC may have run out but that doesn't mean that Strikeforce isn't an option. NBC was willing to sit through the awful ratings of the WEC, it seems like a logical that Strikeforce is an option for the network.
Bellator: Perhaps the biggest winner in the UFC deal with Fox is Bellator. They've been unable to build an identity with a network since their inception. ESPN Deportes lacked the reach to truly make an catch on, they were constantly pre-empted on FSN, and MTV2 is such a small network, the ratings have been awful. With Spike now available, Bellator is now the front runner to become the network's MMA promotion. Bellator would have the added benefit that many MMA fans already consider Spike TV the home for MMA. It may not register for some that the fighters in the cage aren't UFC fighters.
Another thing to consider is that a deal with Spike would mean a much bigger broadcasting license. While Bellator wouldn't be able to negotiate for the $90million/year that the UFC could, they have the ability to ask for much more money that they could with MTV2. More money would mean that they could start signing more established fighters instead of having to snatch up the prospects. The only question would be that a deal with Spike mean that they'd have to consistently put on the best cards possible and would Bellator be willing to scrap the tournament format to appease their broadcasting partner.
M-1 Global: Yes, M-1 Global. They already have a deal in place with Showtime to air events and their money making star (Fedor) is still under contract with the network. The promotion has a reputation of promoting exciting fights, but lacks the name recognition to truly pull ratings to make it deserving of a prime time spot on the weekly schedule. The wild card is that Showtime may essentially fund the company to allow them to sign some major stars, much like they did with Strikeforce when they reeled in Dan Henderson and Fedor Emelianenko.
The other question is how does this signing affect HDNet? The network has made a name for itself as the home for MMA. With three major networks open and available, is there a possibility that HDNet loses some of its steam in negotiations with other promotions? I'm not sure. One thing I do know is that the next couple of years will be interesting in MMA and will be a great time for fans who love fights on free TV.