UFC Retains Production Responsibilities in Fox Sports Deal; Ultimate Fighter Reality Series Goes Live (Sort of)

Fox Sports Media Group (FSMG) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) owner Zuffa, LLC, have announced a broad-ranging media rights deal that looks to deliver the wide mainstream exposure that the mixed martial arts promoter has craved for more than a decade. The seven-year deal, which was officially announced during a high-profile press conference at Fox Network Center on Thursday, is reportedly worth upwards of $90 million and guarantees four live primetime UFC fights on the Fox and 32 live fights on FX per year.

While Fox Sports obviously brings a full arsenal of production experience and resources to the table, early indications have UFC (which produces its live events in-house through its Zuffa production group) retaining the bulk of their own production responsibilities for both live fights and preproduced original programming.

“The production is going to be done the same way it always been: Me and my crew will run the production,” UFC President Dana White said at Thursday’s press conference. “We are going to have a pre- and post-show [for fight telecasts] and Fox is going to bring in their guys for that. But UFC is still going to run the production.”

FSMG Chairman David Hill added: “What [UFC] has done – I think their production is first-class. I doubt there is anything that we could bring that [could improve the production]. There will be discussions as the months and years go on about production, but I think they’re doing a fantastic job as it is.”

FX Gets Even Sportier, Ultimate Fighter Goes ‘Live’
The agreement also moves UFC’s reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, exclusively to FX in a wholly revamped format that features a live fight at the end of every episode. FX, which is quickly becoming major a cable sports destination following the recent addition of a 14-game NCAA college football slate to its fall programming lineup, will carry two 12-episode seasons of The Ultimate Fighter per year, as well as 4-6 additional live UFC events. In all, FX will televise up to 32 live UFC fights: 24 weeks of Ultimate Fighter matches, two Ultimate Fighter Championship bouts, and the additional four to six UFC events.

FX is currently available in more than 99 million homes, while Spike TV – the previous home of The Ultimate Fighter – is available in roughly 96 million homes.

Over the last 14 seasons (seven years), The Ultimate Fighter has been taped over a six-week period and took 3-4 months to edit before finally going to air on Spike TV. However, under the new format, the show will be shot over 13 weeks with each installment being edited during the week of filming. A new episode will air every Friday night on FX and include a live fight. In addition, each season will feature a live championship fight during the finale.

“When you [add it all up], that’s 32 weeks of live fights on FX on Friday nights, which is going to revolutionize our network,” President and GM of FX Networks John Landgraf said.

No UFC Network, But Plenty on Fuel TV
Fuel TV, Fox’s extreme sports cable network reaching about 26 million households, will also feature a wide array of live and shoulder UFC programming, including pre and post-fight coverage surrounding events that air on Fox, FX, and PPV. Additional content expected to make its way to Fuel includes UFC Unleashed, UFC Primetime, UFC Knockout, Best of Pride, weigh-in specials, and more.

“A lot of the other programming that [doesn’t air on Fox and FX] will go to Fuel – from Unleashed to the [preliminary fights] and a lot of other great programming,” said White. “Our prelims did well when they were on Spike and we’re going to be looking to build Fuel much in the way we did Spike.”

At the press conference, FSMG President and co-COO Eric Shanks acknowledged that early discussions with UFC did address the possibility of transforming Fuel into a UFC-branded network, but said that “it became clear very quickly” that a traditional rights deal was the best option for both parties.

“We looked at a number of different deals and structures – one of which was the opportunity for a joint venture or to launch our own network,” said UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. “But at the end of the day when we looked at everything that was on the table, we felt that this license structure made a lot more sense with Fox. I think that a UFC channel would be very successful, but…we what we do best is put on great fights and we are not in the business of running a network.”

Odds and Ends: Digital and Spanish Language
The agreement also encompasses broadband and mobile rights for UFC content. In addition, UFC programming will be featured prominently on Fox Deportes.

“There’s been a lot of talk about Fox, FX and Fuel, but I think the guy who has the biggest grin here today is [Fox Deportes EVP and GM Vincent Cordero],” said Hill. “I think the fit there on Deportes is going to be unbelievable.”

Head to Head with Pacquiao
Fox will air its first live UFC event on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 9:00 PM ET, in almost direct competition with Manny Pacquiao’s WBO Welterweight Title fight against Juan Manuel Marquez on HBO Pay Per View.

The first UFC-on-Fox fight card has yet to be determined, but White says that the event will likely take place in Anaheim, CA. The gem in UFC’s programming will continue to be its pay-per-view offerings, but both Fox and UFC officials acknowledged that championship fights could potentially make their way to broadcast television on Fox.

“You’re not going to have championship fights on every [Fox telecast]. There may be championships on some of them,” said Fertitta. “But I can tell you that we are going to deliver big fights on the broadcast network – fights that matter and mean something.”

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