Spike, UFC Set Ratings Mark

Spike TV's Sept. 8 telecast of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's UFC 75 fight card pinned down the biggest television audience ever for a mixed martial arts event.

But it could be one of the last big UFC event telecasts for the 93-million subscriber network. At least two 2008 UFC live events could be the purview of HBO, as the premium channel and the UFC near a distribution deal, according to sources close to both parties.

Meanwhile, Spike and the UFC continue to negotiate a renewal of its current carriage deal, which expires in 2008, according to Spike officials.

The UFC 75 event, airing on Spike on a tape-delayed basis from London and featuring UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, drew 4.7 million viewers, the most watched UFC event ever in North America, according to Spike. The fight card drew more men 18 to 34 (1,622,000) and men 18 to 49 (2,503,000) than any other broadcast or cable show that day.

The event was also the most-watched non-World Wrestling Entertainment show in Spike's history.

“The ratings are further proof that the tide in American sports is changing,” Spike general manager Kevin Kay said in a statement. “Young men, who constitute the Spike TV core audience, prefer the incredible action and athleticism of the UFC to more-traditional sports.”

The performance should bode well for ongoing talks between Spike and the UFC with regard to a new carriage agreement. Spike is hoping to extend its deal with the UFC — which includes the popular reality series The Ultimate Fighter — before it expires sometime next year.

The series has averaged 1.9 million viewers for the network over five seasons since it first launched in January 2005. The network is set to launch season six of The Ultimate Fighter in September, with a seventh season slated for early 2008.

A network spokesman would only say that the two parties are “still in the negotiations phase.”

UFC officials could not be reached for comment at press time.

Spike isn't the only network negotiating a carriage deal for the UFC.

HBO and the UFC are in ongoing talks regarding the pay channel's distribution of at least two live fights in 2008, according to executives close to both parties.

An HBO spokesman confirmed the ongoing negotiations, but would not comment further.

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.