Today it was announced that The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 will air on subscription sports channel Sky Sports in the UK. In this article we’ll look at the pros and cons of the deal for UK MMA fans.
- Sky Sports is the leading subscription sports channel in the UK, and in terms of it’s overall audience is considerably more popular than the current home of the UFC’s live events, ESPN UK.
- That’s largely thanks to it’s vast football (soccer) coverage which of course is the UK’s most watched sport by some distance. It also carries a wide variety of other sporting favorites, including boxing.
- In previous years TUF has aired on regular stations such as Virgin 1 and FIVE USA which are regular channels covering everything from soaps to dramas. In theory broadcasting on Sky Sports should enable TUF to find an audience that’s more likely to be interested in it.
- The network is well funded and slickly produced so if they decided to throw their weight behind TUF they could do a very good job of promoting it.
- There’s also a certain cache to being a part of the channel due to it already housing many of the world’s leading sporting events, which the UFC’s UK president Marshall Zelaznik terms, “The halo effect.” He hopes that will lend credibility to the sport in the British Isles and help it to take another step towards the mainstream.
- As part of the deal Sky Sports will now cover MMA news on their Sky Sports News channel for the first time. Again this is an important step in legitimizing mixed martial arts as a genuine sport in the UK.
- With UFC events still airing on ESPN UK and now TUF on Sky Sports, the UFC have widened their reach to the UK’s two major sporting networks and can now tap into both their fan bases.
- In the past TUF has primarily been shown on free TV in the UK, whether via FIVE USA, Virgin 1 or Bravo. Now MMA fans will have to have a Sky Sports subscription in order to see the show.
- The UFC’s fan base in the UK is centered mainly on ESPN UK where all their events air live. Now fans will have to have to subscribe to both ESPN UK and Sky Sports in order to see all the promotion’s current programming.
- Sky Sports may have a targeted audience, but it’s overall audience reach is considerably smaller than the previous channels it’s aired on.
- Arriving on a network already packed with major sporting events means that TUF will not be given priority in it’s scheduling. It’s new Tuesday evening slot on Sky Sports 2 means that fans will have to wait six days after the show airs on Spike TV in the U.S before it’s aired on British screens, compared to between one and three days on previous channels.
- A major concern for MMA fans here is that this move may be the precursor to Sky Sports picking up the UFC’s live events as well. While that in itself may not be a bad thing, the fear is that the network will follow a similar path as they did with boxing in the 90’s in the UK and begin airing UFC events on pay-per-view.
So, as you can see there’s both pluses and minuses to the new deal. Personally I do believe this is the first step in Sky Sports eventually buying up the rights to the UFC’s live events, assuming that the ratings for TUF meet their expectations.
If that is there intention they’ll have to wait however as ESPN UK still have two years left on their current deal with the promotion.