Dana White: Ultimate Fox Catch?

What the Fox deal means for the UFC, MMA, boxing & the wider sports entertainment world.

So Dana White has finally agreed terms with a major network to broadcast UFC events. The deal with FOX was the culmination of numerous prior abortive attempts by other networks to cash in on the UFC’s widespread appeal and considerable fan base.

White claims, “This was it for me, this is what I always wanted. This is what I felt was the pinnacle for us in the United States is to get a deal with Fox.”

The UFC is the undisputed global leader in the fast growing sport of Mixed Martial Arts. The seven year deal will see the UFC move to the embattled News Corporation’s FOX broadcast television channel (and cable channels FX and Fuel). The agreement moves UFC content away from long-time carrier of fights Spike TV, a subsidiary of Viacom. The FX cable channel will now have exclusive broadcasting rights to the enormously popular The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show which unearths future UFC fighters under the ubiquitous glare of cameras as they strike, wrestle, grapple & submit their way to a prized UFC contract.

 

The switch to FX is of debatable consequence in and of itself as this channel, like Spike TV, is obtainable with most basic cable packages. The Ultimate Fighter will though in all probability benefit tangentially as FOX covers major NFL matchups and other marquee sports fare that should widen and enhance The Ultimate Fighter’s exposure to young males. The first UFC-FOX collaborative live event goes out as soon as November 12.

 

UFC fighters are expected to benefit from pervasive amplified endorsement deals and mainstream name recognition. A key unknown variable that is liable to become the rate limiting factor for the sports’ global mainstream uptake & acceptance is finding a tolerable equilibrium between delivering mixed martial arts as merciless blood sport whilst remaining cognizant of the assumed sensitivities of a widened, perhaps more squeamish, mainstream viewership.

Spike TV aired both The Ultimate Fighter and several live UFC cards annually. As a channel whose niche is indelibly associated with men under the age of 40; the loss of exclusive rights to such prized content is likely to result in diminished advertising revenue as consumer goods retailers & companies selling products or services that target the discretionary incomes of young adult males make a beeline toward Fox en-masse.

The development is an impending windfall for the sport; but make no mistake this is Dana White and the UFC playing with the highest stakes conceivable knowing full well the consequences of failure to cross over, or transition as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner might term it, to the mainstream of network television could have devastating long term ramifications for the still young & somewhat untested sporting phenomenon.

The gauntlet will also effectively be thrown down to non-PPV boxing offerings. The quality of cards put up on shows such as ESPN’s Friday Night Fights & HBO’s Boxing After Dark will need to offer more traditional fight fans a higher quality free to tune in alternative to improved now free to view UFC cards on FOX and her affiliates.

Whilst I deem boxing and the UFC as capable of independent and even synergetic co-existence; I nevertheless feel moved to stress the long term aspects of fan aggregation that boxing ignores only at her peril.

 

The 19 year old who is into the UFC and the median same age boxing fan are two conspicuously diverse characters. Socio-economic and cultural considerations all shape & reinforce the direction such allegiances progress toward over the course of many years. What concerns me though is the long term sustenance and proliferation of boxing’s fan base. Boxing needs to supply a product of like for like (at the least) quality in order to ensure the long term uptake of patronage by future generations of hardcore fans from non-traditional demographics.

By non-traditional demographics I’d unquestionably have to include myself – that is, boxing fans who fell in love with the sport independent of familial encouragement or tradition. This demographic got into the sport because they witnessed greatness – excitement, courage, one fighter’s will surpassing the next and manifesting in a physical output that belied mere bodily realities or impositions. The key differential – in reaching & seducing these future requisite custodians of the sport’s long term vitality – will be in providing content that is available on a equivalent scale and free to view (or near free to view) basis that showcases the highest evolution of such species. More Gatti vs Ward & less Haye vs Klitschko.

 

In many ways the fight is not for today’s advertising budget – but for tomorrows.

 

For boxing fans in need of a psychosomatic boost in the wake of this apparent renewed assault on boxing as the planet’s premier combat sport I conclude with the following sobering fact: News Corporation’s last major foray into tapping into the commercial potential of a younger, untried  platform saw them buy Myspace for $580 million in 2005. They were reported to have sold off ownership in June of this year for only $38 million.

 

Heavy lays the crown, Dana White will be keenly aware of this on his visit to the high rollers room.