The Greatest MMA News Column 01.22.12: Fuel Rebranding, Bellator Debuts on Spike, More
In a move that has been talked about for months, the Sports Business Journal has reports that FX will drop all of its sports programming, which is major news for the UFC.
UFC moved its TV programming from Spike TV to FOX, FX, and Fuel TV in 2012, a move that brought them tens of millions in extra income. FOX got four live event specials per month as well as Countdown-style shows to build to those specials. FX got six live event shows in 2012, select live prelims to every UFC PPV, live prelims for the fifth FOX special, The Ultimate Fighter, and UFC Primetime. Fuel TV received the rest, including everything from live events and live prelims to Countdown shows and studio recap shows.
Until an official announced is made it’s not crystal clear what exactly will happen to the UFC’s programming on FX. One would expect live events to leave the channel, as FOX has always treated them as sporting events. With The Ultimate Fighter, it could be viewed as either a sports or entertainment program. In 2012, FX time delayed the show to air in the same slot on both the east and west coasts, including the finale, which would indicate they see it as more entertainment than sport. But, leaving the show on FX would mean major UFC content on four different channels, which makes things more confusing for the viewer and could hurt ratings.
It seems as though at least most of UFC’s content will be on FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2, formerly known as Speed and Fuel TV respectively. Rebranding efforts are reportedly planned to begin around August, but nothing is official. FOX Sports 1 will be modeled as a competitor to ESPN. Stations in the business of competing with ESPN have all failed, but FOX Sports 1 would have considerably more live major sporting content than other competitors.
What this means for the UFC is uncertain. On the surface, it seems as though FOX is once again using them as a building block for a fledgling station. Placing most UFC programming on Fuel TV, available in 37.6 million homes, to build that channel has hurt ratings as well as PPV business. More notably, UFC would be moving at least it’s live content from FX, a highly rated cable network available in nearly 100 million homes, to a new network (in the place of a low rated network) available in 81 million homes. Almost surely, the move will initially hurt the UFC. In the past, they’ve used free TV shows as a way to promote fighters that could be later put into a drawing position on PPV as well as to promote upcoming PPV events. Plus, with UFC on the network of a direct competitor, ESPN may at least draw back UFC coverage, which is already lacking. Since moving to the FOX Networks, UFC has relied more heavily on media like ESPN to promote their fights (which is exactly what Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are doing today, actually). If that coverage goes away or is cut back, it would hurt the UFC’s bigger PPV shows that generally receive ESPN coverage, like last summer’s Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen show.
On the positive side, there is a ton of upside of all goes with the rebranding. If FOX Sports 1 becomes a legitimate competitor to ESPN, then UFC becomes one of the major properties on a major sports station. When a station like that has an interest in the success of its programming, it can only mean good things for the UFC’s ratings and PPV business. Of course, it’s going to be a really tough road for FOX Sports 1 to get to that point as they’ll have to overturn years of viewer habits and really strong content.
The show peaked with the Pat Curran-Patricio Pitbull title match, which opened the card. Generally, when an MMA show’s audience peaks with the opening bout it means the show did poorly, but this is an exception. Though they are in a good position following Impact Wrestling, the downside of the time slot is they’re on fairly late at night on a weeknight. In this case, they had a large number of people trying out the product for the first time, a lot of which likely weren’t familiar with main event fighters Michael Chandler and Rick Hawn. With no emotional investment in or much knowledge of the fighters, why stay up late to watch the main event? I think that, along with people simply not into the product, resulted in the dip to 936,000 viewers for the main event.
UFC returns to Sweden on April 6 with Alexander Gustafsson vs. Gegard Mousasi. After a quick sellout for the promotion’s debut there last April, UFC comes back to Stockholm, Sweden, once again with Alexander Gustafsson headlining. Gustafsson, 26, welcomes Gegard Mousasi to the UFC in the main event. With a six-fight win streak, Gustafsson will be hard to deny a title shot with a win, but there’s always the potential Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida, Glover Teixeira, or Anderson Silva could jump in front of him. Mousasi, 27, hasn’t lost since seven days after Gustafsson’s last loss, but has a draw with Keith Jardine thrown in the middle of his winning streak (which really should have been a win for Gegard.) A win likely wouldn’t mean a title shot for Mousasi, but it’d be a big way to start his UFC career.
UFC makes Henderson vs. Melendez, Mir vs. Cormier, and Hardy vs. Brown official for FOX 7. After speculating on the card last week, UFC has made the top two fights official for UFC on FOX 7. Henderson and Melendez will fight it out for the UFC title in a really interesting match-up. Mir vs. Cormier may turn out to be a great showcase bout for the latter and continues the streak of past -prime former champions prominently featured on FOX cards. As long as Cormier keeps the fight standing, he should have the advantage with his faster hands and Mir’s questionable chin. If the fight hits the floor though, Mir is more than capable of taking home a limb. Hardy vs. Brown is just the type of action fight UFC looks for to kick off the FOX shows, and it helps that Hardy is a star.
UFC on FOX 6 is Saturday. UFC brings a live fight card to FOX for the sixth time on Saturday night. Unsurprisingly, the show seems to be anticipated quite a bit less than the 12/8 card on FOX. That show had a stronger headliner, stronger name value overall, and more time between events so it was really focused on for a few weeks. An interesting aspect of the promotion of the show has been FOX billing the Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson main event as a “world title” match without mentioning the weight class. That’s certainly not a mistake as the flyweight division is still new and holds no prestige compared to the top four UFC weight classes. In all of the in-game promo spots, the FOX announcer was always sure to mention the return of Rampage Jackson in the co-main event, but never names his less known opponent in Glover Teixeira.
The show should rank fourth of all the UFC on FOX shows in terms of viewership considering the title match, Rampage Jackson, and it being promoted during highly viewed NFL Playoff games. The thing is, there’s currently a wide gap separating third and fourth place, so saying it should come in fourth is no bold statement. To me, if the show does above a 2.0 rating, it’s good, below that and it’s not good, and around that would be okay. Despite the “world title” fight, Johnson vs. Dodson is far from a strong headliner, and it’s kind of an unknown if the audience will want to see fighters that size fight. At the first flyweight title fight in September, Johnson and Joseph Benavidez didn’t have a bad fight by any standard, but that didn’t keep the Toronto crowd from raining down boos upon the cage. When the ratings do come in, perhaps the most interesting aspect will be whether they peak with Rampage – by far the biggest star on the show – or the title fight main event. The peak really should come with the latter (and I’d be surprised if it didn’t), especially because it’s likely to go twenty-five minutes and generally the longer fights go the more audience gains they see. But if the peak comes earlier, it speaks volumes about fans’ willingness to accept the lighter-weight fighters.
Fight-wise, the show should be really good. The opener between Erik Koch and Ricardo Lamas in a title eliminator should be very good. A bout between lightweights Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis will likely become a striking match and has the potential to be a classic. Rampage vs. Teixeira also has the potential to be good, but considering Jackson’s recent outings I can see ways in which it could be disappointing. Johnson vs. Dodson could be a great, fast bout, though it’s not a guarantee and different audiences may have different feelings about it.
1. UFC on FOX 1 (11/12/11) – Velasquez vs. Dos Santos – 3.1 rating – 5.7 million viewers
2. EliteXC: Primetime (5/31/08) – Kimbo vs. Thompson – 3.0 rating – 4.85 million viewers
3. EliteXC: Heat (10/4/08) – Kimbo vs. Petruzelli – 2.7 rating – 4.56 million viewers
4. UFC on FOX 2 (1/28/12) – Evans vs. Davis – 2.6 rating – 4.7 million viewers
5. UFC on FOX 5 (12/8/12) – Henderson vs. Diaz – 2.5 rating – 4.39 million viewers
5. Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers (11/7/09) – 2.5 rating – 4.04 million viewers
7. Strikeforce: Nashville (4/17/10) – Shields vs. Henderson – 1.76 rating – 2.86 million viewers
8. EliteXC: Unfinished Business (7/26/08) – Lawler vs. Smith – 1.7 rating – 2.62 million viewers
9. UFC on FOX 3 (5/5/12) – Miller vs. Diaz – 1.5 rating – 2.418 million viewers
10. UFC on FOX 4 (8/4/12) – Shogun vs. Vera – 1.44 rating – 2.44 million viewers
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to leave any feedback in the comment box or at the e-mail address below. Follow @Dan_Plunkett