×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

UFC deal a major play for Fox networks

FX to air mixed martial arts on 32 Fridays

The seven-year deal Ultimate Fighting Championship has signed with Fox Sports Media Group will bring the fast-rising sport its biggest presence on broadcast television to date.

But while the four live events airing on Fox each year will grab headlines, the impact on cablers FX and lesser-known Fuel TV could be transformative.

Starting in the spring, FX will air UFC programming on 32 Friday nights per year, turning a relative dead zone for the cabler (filled mainly with film and TV repeats) into a vibrant magnet for its primary demo. Fuel, meanwhile, will give more than a third of its primetime schedule to mixed martial arts coverage when the deal formally goes into effect Jan. 1.

Spanish-language sibling Fox Deportes will also take on a significant portion of UFC content.

“It’s a deal that touches all aspects of the Fox Media Group,” said Fox Sports Media Group prexy Eric Shanks at the gathering where the official announcement was made Thursday. “I don’t know if you could weigh which part is best.”

Fox’s UFC coverage will begin with a live bout Nov. 12, which happens to be the night of an HBO-distributed pay-per-view broadcast of a Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez boxing bout, and continue with one live event each quarter.

“This is what I always wanted,” said UFC prexy Dana White. “This is what I always felt was the pinnacle for us here in the United States.”

The UFC-FSMG deal formally goes into effect next year, at which point the broader impact unfolds.

Unscripted series “The Ultimate Fighter” will air in spring and fall 13-week cycles on FX, in a new format. For the first 12 weeks, an hour’s worth of recently recorded footage, edited in reality-show style, will be followed by 30 minutes of live fight coverage. And in a nod to modern-day viewer interaction, fans will vote by text message on which bouts they want to see. Week 13 will offer an all-live season finale.

The remaining six Friday broadcasts on FX will be live “Fight Nights,” further enticing the core FX audience. FX prexy and g.m. John Landgraf cited research showing an 80% overlap of fans of UFC and those who watch FX.

“Both the UFC and FX have enjoyed explosive growth in the past 10 years,” Landgraf said. “We’re not an emerging network anymore, and they’re not an emerging sport.”

FX exec veep Chuck Saftler said the network expects to grow the million-plus adults in the 18-49 demo that the UFC has drawn on cable in the past.

“Sports has been a critical component that we’ve wanted to add to FX,” Saftler said. “Our median age is 37 — with the young males (that UFC attracts), it will probably bring the male age down a bit.”

For its part, the bread and butter of UFC (owned by Las Vegas-based Zuffa) will remain pay-per-view, but the parties involved agreed that the combination of distribution outlets for the sport would accelerate demand for it on all fronts.

“That’s the yin and the yang with pay-per-view,” Shanks said. “Our agreement is not to infringe on pay-per-view. We’ll scratch each other’s backs as much as we can.”

Demand for the sport was such that at one point, there was talk of a dedicated UFC cable network — including the possibility that Fuel would undergo that reconfiguration.

“At the end of the day, we just looked at everything that was on the table and felt that this license structure just made a lot of sense,” said UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. “But we sat down, thought about it a little bit and said, ‘You know what we do best? We put on great fights.’ We’re not in the business of running a network. And as far as the life cycle of the company and where we’re at, it just made more sense for us to do this deal with Fox.”

Though some specifics are still being worked out, Fuel exec veep and g.m. George Greenberg said to expect primetime UFC coverage (including preliminary bouts and rebroadcasts of material from other FSMG networks) to begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

“Fuel already has a heavy male demographic,” Greenberg said, noting that UFC will mix very well with motorcross, surfing and other action sports on the cabler.

More TV

  • ‘Line of Duty’ Adds Kelly Macdonald

    Kelly Macdonald to Star in Hit British Cop Series ‘Line of Duty’

    Kelly Macdonald will be the lead guest star in the next season of Jed Mercurio’s “Line of Duty.” The last season of the serialized cop drama was a ratings smash on the BBC, with the finale in May the most-watched program of the year so far in the U.K., garnering 13.7 million viewers. AMC Networks’ [...]

  • StarzPlay Buys Erotic Thriller Series 'Instinto,'

    StarzPlay Buys Erotic Thriller 'Instinto' and Drama Series ‘Sanctuary’ for U.K.

    StarzPlay has snagged rights to Spanish-produced erotic thriller series “Instinto” and psychological thriller “Sanctuary.” The Starz streaming service has scored both series for the U.K., and for unspecified territories in mainland Europe. Movistar Plus and Bambu Producciones-produced “Instinto” follows Marco Mur, an attractive, successful businessman. A trauma from his past prevents him from getting emotionally [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston Signs Writers Guild Code

    The Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston agency has signed the Writers Guild of America’s Code of Conduct, allowing the agency to return to representing WGA members again. The WGA made the announcement Monday night. RBEL is joining more than 70 agencies allowed to represent WGA members thanks to agreeing to a ban of agency packaging fees [...]

  • Fiona Lang and Ryan Shiotani

    BBC Studios Hires GMs in Further Asia Reshuffle

    BBC Studios the coproduction and rights sales arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation, has appointed Fiona Lang and Ryan Shiotani as general managers in the Asia-Pacific region. Lang, currently COO for the company in Australia and New Zealand, is promoted to become BBC Studios’ GM in the same geography. Her responsibilities cover marketing, advertising, creative, [...]

  • The Lord of the Rings: The

    'Lord of the Rings' Series Renewed by Amazon for Season 2

    Amazon has given an early Season 2 renewal to its forthcoming “Lord of the Rings” series. Pre-production on the project’s first season, which is set to film in New Zealand, is currently underway — although sources tell Variety that the full cast has not yet been set. Several actors, including Markella Kavenagh, Will Poulter, and [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Chinatown' Prequel Series in Development at Netflix From David Fincher, Robert Towne

    A prequel series to the classic film “Chinatown” is in early development at Netflix, Variety has confirmed with sources. David Fincher and Robert Towne, the film’s writer, are attached to pen the script. It will reportedly focus on the exploits of a young Jake “J.J.” Gittes during his early days as a private investigator. Netflix declined [...]

  • TV Roundup: Pop TV Releases Teaser

    TV News Roundup: Pop TV Releases Teaser for 'Schitt's Creek's' Final Season

    In today’s TV news roundup, Pop TV releases a teaser for the final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” and Nickelodeon kicks off the holiday season with “Top Elf.” DATES Nickelodeon’s “Top Elf” series will premiere Nov. 29. “Top Elf” is a new competition series featuring guest judges Frankie Grande, Amirah Kassem, Peyton List, Alex Wassabi and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content