UFC is Back, on In Demand

After a three-year hiatus, the controversial Ultimate Fighting Championship
circuit will return to cable pay-per-view in September.

In Demand L.L.C. and new UFC owners Zuffa LLC have reached a four-year,
multievent agreement to distribute the mixed martial-arts show, which cable
operators banned due to the sport's perceived violent nature.

Executives from Zuffa -- which purchased UFC from Semaphore Entertainment
Group in January -- said they also hope to secure distribution for a weekly
basic-cable show in the near future.

In Demand will distribute approximately six UFC events per year beginning
Sept. 28. The suggested retail price of the first event is $24.95.

In Demand senior vice president of programming and development Dan York said
Zuffa has adopted a number of rule changes that have allowed UFC to regain the
good graces of state athletic commissioners and, ultimately, the PPV

Zuffa will also embark on an aggressive marketing push to reintroduce the
sport, which will showcase actress Carmen Electra as its spokeswoman.

'Zuffa has upgraded the rules and regulations of the sport, and it has the
sanctioning of some of the larger athletic commissions,' York said. 'The new
management has demonstrated to us that it is ready to bring the UFC back to

The deal marks the return of what had been a lucrative sports franchise for
the cable industry. Originally touted as a no-holds-barred, fight-to-the-death
event, the UFC burst onto the PPV scene four years ago to strong buy-rate

But the franchise quickly ran into political trouble in 1997, when the New
York State Athletic Commission banned it due to excessive violence even though
SEG insisted that no one had been seriously hurt in an event.

As other major state sanctioning bodies repudiated UFC's legitimacy as a
sport, operators one by one refused to carry the events. By 1998, In Demand,
then Viewer's Choice, banned the sport altogether.

While UFC continued to average around 25,000 PPV buys through DirecTV Inc.
and several stand-alone systems, it didn't have enough distribution to make the
franchise financially viable for SEG, which eventually sold UFC to Zuffa.

Interestingly, Zuffa owner Lorenzo Fertitta is a former vice chairman of the
Nevada Athletic Commission.

The Nevada commission will vote on whether to sanction UFC during a meeting
in July. York said In Demand will honor the contract regardless of the
commission's decision.

Fertitta said the In Demand deal will help to boost awareness of the UFC and
its stars. He added that Zuffa hopes to secure a basic cable-deal for the UFC in
the near future, although he has yet to initiate talks with any

R. Thomas Umstead

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.