ConCom, Fox Sports Bring UFC to the Masses
On Saturday night, 18 years to the day after UFC 1 entered the Octagon, an Ultimate Fighting Championship event will finally air on a broadcast network, when Fox delivers the UFC Heavyweight Championship fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos. The ultra-hyped telecast will mark the first in a series of quarterly primetime fights set to air on Fox as part of a seven-year deal signed in August, reportedly worth nearly $100 million.
“I think coming over to Fox proves that UFC has finally reached the mainstream,” says Al Connal, president of Concom, which has produced nearly every UFC PPV event since the beginning. “From a technical standpoint, the magnitude and level of trucks is basically doubled [compared with a UFC PPV event]. This rivals some of the biggest and most complex sports shows around.”
In addition to the one-hour championship fight telecast on Fox, Concom and Fox Sports are teaming up to produce four supplementary shows: pre- and post-fight coverage on Fuel and Fox Deportes, a world/Web feed of the 10 preliminary fights leading up to the heavyweight title bout, and a French-language feed delivered to Montreal for distribution.
A total of three NEP mobile units and a bevy of other trailers and trucks are on hand at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. ND4 (A and B units) has the world feed, Supershooter 16 is handling the Fox show, and Fuel’s pre/post coverage is operating out of Supershooter 18. In addition, PSSI/Strategic Television has rolled out a hybrid C-band satellite-uplink truck with a small production area for the ESPN Deportes show. And UFC parent company Zuffa has a full postproduction trailer, as it does for every UFC event.
“This is a huge event with several entities involved,” says Mike Davies, VP of technical operations for Fox Sports. “Fox has really just been here as advisors and consultants to Concom. They have been doing this for years, so we hand over the reins to those guys and let them do what they do best: produce a great fight.”
Longtime UFC producer/director team Bruce Connal and Anthony Giordano will handle the main Fox telecast out of SS-16.
The Cameras and the Sets
Concom has deployed more than 30 cameras, including the traditional 14-camera plan it uses for UFC PPV fights. In addition, Fox has provided an Inertia Unlimited X-Mo high-speed camera system. ESPN Deportes also has three dedicated cameras.
In addition to the main announce booth, both Fox and Fuel have dedicated studio sets at the Honda Center for their pre- and post-fight coverage. Both sets are equipped with four cameras, including a mini jib.
A Sprawling Network
Given the sheer number of production entities on hand for the fight, it is no surprise that a massive EVS network was required for the show. The various production entities on-site have deployed 16 six-channel EVS production servers and several SpotBoxes, totaling more than 100 channels.
“From camera feeds to audio sources to the EVS — it’s all interchangeable,” says Connal. “So, at any point in time, the Fox show can go in and control everything. That’s what we’ve planned. Once the Fox show goes to the fight with SS18, they will be controlling all the EVSs that are actually in ND4.”
The bulk of the production will use MADI audio, although AES and analog audio is present in certain aspects.
In order to facilitate communications among this battalion of trucks, NEP has interconnected all the intercoms via a Telex ADAM matrix with bus expansion and RVON.
Originally, NEP planned to bring its ESU distribution truck to Anaheim to handle the monumental task of routing all these feeds. However, as the production plan evolved, NEP decided it was not necessary.
“With Fox and Concom working together, this is one big happy family, which means that we can create one big [network],” says Scott Rothenberg, VP of logistics, NEP Broadcasting. “There is no inherent competition between any of the clients on-site like there is at some other big events, so we are able to link everything together.”
In terms of on-air talent, UFC President Dana White and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar will join host Curt Menefee during the Fox prefight show, and UFC commentator Joe Rogan will conduct prefight interviews. Rogan and long-time UFC announcer Mike Goldberg will call the fight itself.
Leading up to the main event on Fox, Fuel TV will provide 4½ hours of coverage, including a two-hour live prefight special featuring host Jay Glazer, analysts/fighters Kenny Florian and Stephan Bonnar, reporter Nicole Dabeau, and a champions’ roundtable of UFC stars. This team returns for a one-hour postfight special that will include the postfight press conferences.
A Burgeoning Relationship
The production is a unique situation for Fox, which finds itself supporting Concom rather than producing the show itself. Nonetheless, both sides report that the new relationship has been a perfect fit for a multifaceted show like UFC on Fox.
“In my opinion, Fox is the best in the business in terms of technical prowess,” says Connal. “Mike Davies and Fox execute the operational and technical side of things as good as anyone in the business, and they have given us absolutely everything we’ve needed.”
The Fox-Concom relationship is set to grow even stronger. The network’s UFC deal calls for a waterfall of programming to hit Fox, FX, and Fuel in the coming months.
Beginning in 2012, Fox will air at least four live UFC fights per year in primetime. Fox Sports Co-President Eric Shanks confirms that future Fox broadcasts will be longer than the one-hour timeslot allotted for this Saturday.
“Going forward, you’re going to see longer fight nights on Fox,” says Shanks. “We believe the sweet spot for broadcast is an hour and a half. That lets you get in two or three fights, because not every fight on Fox is going to be a championship fight.”
FX will exclusively carry UFC reality show The Ultimate Fighter (which will feature a live fight at the end of each of 12 episodes for the first time), as well as four to six additional live UFC events. That adds up to about 30 live fights per year (two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter per year). Live-fight windows will be two hours long.
According to Fuel EVP/GM George Greenberg, the network will feature more than 2,000 hours of UFC programming (about 25% of its slate) and 100 hours of live programming. Live-fight windows will be three hours.
With a wealth of UFC programming on the horizon, the Fox Sports and Concom production teams have laid a solid foundation with Cain-Dos Santos.
“Fox can bring the perspective of a broadcast audience and set the tone correctly before the fight, ” says Shanks. “But Fox has never done UFC fights before, and, obviously, UFC and [Concom] are the best in the world, and they have been doing it for a long time.”
UFC on Fox officially enters the Octagon at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday Nov. 12.