In the wake of the UFC’s TV deal with FOX much of the attention has been drawn primarily towards the promotion finally breaking onto network television via what Dana White likes to call ‘Big FOX’.
That’s understandable, but it has to be stressed that only four events a year will air on FOX TV.
Meanwhile I share Lorenzo Fertitta’s enthusiasm for a number of the UFC’s other key properties such as ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show, six ‘UFC Fight Night’ events each year and the ‘UFC Primetime’ show airing on ‘FX’.
Essentially FX is a like-for-like replacement for Spike TV in terms of size (both stations being available in just under 100 million homes) but with much better quality programming (think prime-time drama like ‘Sons Of Anarchy’, ‘Justified’ and ‘Rescue Me’ for instance) and a bigger audience share.
However, that still leaves a significant portion of the UFC’s programming that’s will be moving to the lesser known of FOX’s networks – Fuel TV. If you’re an a keen follower of the sport then you’re going to become very familiar with this channel as it’s going to carry the ‘UFC Prelims Live’ shows along with new pre and post fight coverage and old favorites like the ‘UFC Unleashed’ series.
So Fuel TV’s role in this deal cannot be overlooked and this is where things get interesting for everyone concerned as at this moment in time Fuel TV is a small-time player in FOX’s portfolio and is something of a work in progress.
Billed as ‘Action Sports Television’ and aimed at a young male audience the station has been running since 2003 but currently reaches just 32 million homes. The programming on it reflects that with niche sports like motocross, BMX and surfing being mainstays of it’s current schedule along with the recent addition of up and coming MMA promotion Shark Fights in highlight form (although they may soon be on the move now that the UFC is coming aboard).
Clearly is a very different platform for the UFC compared with FOX and FX and as a result expectations will have to be tempered. It’s virtually guaranteed, at least in the near future, that the 1-2 million ratings that have been seen for the UFC’s live prelim shows on Spike TV are not going to be replicated on Fuel TV.
As an example, take when the UFC did a prelim show on Ion Television at the start of this year, a station available in nearly 100 million homes the figures dropped to the 700-800,000 range. Given their far smaller reach I would anticipate that Fuel TV’s will be considerably lower than this.
So this is going to be something of a pet project for both FOX and the UFC that’s going to need to be nursed along. Dana White indicated as much at yesterday’s press conference stating that part of their role on Fuel would be to increase it’s audience reach and boost advertising interest.
Certainly they have the power to do that and there’s no doubt that Fuel TV execs are going to be grinning from ear to ear due to all the content that’s going to be coming their way which is essentially going to eclipse their current content and help draw unprecidented attention and extra eyeballs to their network.
That’s reflected in the fact that it’s being suggested that UFC programming will air on Fuel TV seven days a week.
Over time that could result in the network growing in much the same way as the UFC did with Spike TV years ago which would be a victory for FOX, but it’s not going to happen overnight, and in the mean time some fans may quickly become frustrated with their inability to tune into the channel due to it’s limited reach.