Fox Sports and The Ultimate Fighting Championship Thursday pinned downed details of their landmark distribution deal which for the first time will put the mixed martial arts outfit's content on Fox broadcast network, FX, Fuel and Fox Sports Deportes.
FX will air 30 live UFC fights a year - most of which will come from live events originating from UFC's original reality series The Ultimate Fighter - while the broadcaster will air four live fights annually, as part of a seven-year deal between the parties, according to network and UFC officials during a press conference in Los Angeles.
Fox's first telecast is set for Nov. 12, the same night HBO PPV will distribute the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez boxing card.
The pact propels the UFC - which a decade ago was banned from pay-per-view due to its perceived in-ring violence - into the mainstream of sports programming, according to UFC president Dana White.
"This was what I always wanted and would be the pinnacle for us," said White. "It will take this sport to the next level."
FX will televise six live UFC fights a year, along with 24 live bouts each week from the Ultimate Fighter, which aired its previous 14 seasons on Spike. Beginning in spring 2012, the network will run two seasons a year of the reality series - which pits amateur fighters in weekly elimination fights with the winner gaining a UFC contract -- and will tape each week's episode days in advance. Prior seasons were taped months in advance before premiering on Spike.
Spike issued the following statement concerning the change: "The Ultimate Fighter season 14 in September will be our last. We are increasing our commitment to distinctive, original series that we own such as Auction Hunters and Bar Rescue, which are delivering on our goal to reach a broader audience. Our six-year partnership with the UFC has been incredibly beneficial in building both our brands, and we wish them all the best in the future."
NBC Sports Group, whose national sports cable network has also been in the MMA ring, issued this statement: "Versus is proud of the role its played in the growth of the UFC, including being the first cable sports network to air a live UFC event. We wish them all the best in their new endeavor."
FX president Jon Landgraf said the addition of the UFC puts the network on a level playing field with networks like TBS and TNT that offer sports programming.
"We can now stand toe to toe with anybody in our set," Landgraf said.
Fuel will have a "significant" amount of UFC supporting programming and live event shows throughout the year, according to Fox Sports president Eric Shanks.
Shanks also said that there was some discussion about rebranding Fuel as a UFC channel, but it was ultimately decided to place UFC programming on the network.
Fox Deportes will also air UFC content, although specifics were not revealed.
Fox Sports chairman David Hill said Fox is not concerned about the controversial nature of the mixed martial arts genre, adding that there are numerous companies that are ready to advertise on the live Fox events.
"They've taking a niche sport and taken it to a mainstream sport," Hill said. "They've created the ultimate TV experience."
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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