The reaction to the UFC’s multi-year deal with FOX has so far being overwhelmingly positive, but it seems not everyone was thrilled to hear the news.
In fact, according to UFC President Dana White a rival network of the FOX network, ESPN, is being less than cordial with them since the announcement and he’s not happy about it.
“ESPN always hated us and now they hate us more now that we are on FOX. They canceled my [interview] next week for UFC Rio Fuk ESPN,” White told a fan on Twitter.
Later White wrote, “@Jim Rome is the only good thing about ESPN,” a nod to the ESPN host who’s had the UFC boss on his ‘Rome’s Burning’ show on a number of occasions.
So, unfortunately it seems as if a feud is brewing and that’s not good news for the sports continued coverage on the channel. After many years of being essentially ignored by the sports broadcaster ESPN had finally stepped up to the plate in recent time and now offers the weekly MMA Live show on ESPN2 plus brief highlight packages on SportsCenter for major UFC events and live interviews with key fighters on the week of their fights.
The UFC’s move to FOX does put them in an uncomfortable position however.
As FX president John Landgraf stated at the ‘UFC On Fox’ press conference earlier this week their belief is that winning the rights to the UFC now “puts us on a level playing field with all of our competitors.”
Despite the fact the ESPN and FOX actually teamed up earlier this year to win the media rights to the PAC-10 they are still very much rivals in the sporting sphere and it’s going to make things a little tricky when it comes to reporting on something like a ‘UFC On FOX’ event.
In reality it shouldn’t matter – ESPN wouldn’t stop covering PAC-10 had they not won the rights, but the fact is that despite taking great steps towards the mainstream MMA isn’t yet as integrated into the American sporting psyche as the likes of the NFL, MLB and NBA and so it can still easily be swept aside or discarded by a network like ESPN.
It should be noted however that ESPN’s MMA Live show did cover the UFC’s deal with FOX last night.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, but Dana White’s angry reaction to ESPN’s snub doesn’t bode well and continued bad blood could have some major ramifactions in the future.
One of the most notable would be that at this moment in time the UK’s coverage of the UFC comes via ESPN UK. The relationship between the two parties had already appeared to be a little strained in the past couple of months when the channel suddenly stopped airing Spike TV preliminary events and then didn’t air the latest ‘UFC On Versus’ fight card despite having aired the ones prior to that.
It was claimed that they weren’t able to show them as they didn’t have the rights, but it could be that something more politically motivated was going on behind-the-scenes.
Interestingly, on MMA Live on Friday night UK journalist and regular guest Gareth A.Davies explained that the fact that there will now be additional ‘UFC On FOX’ events in the future means that ESPN UK will have to buy the rights if they want to air those events live.
It’s too soon to say where all this is going to lead, but it’s worth pointing out that Lorenzo Fertitta stated at Thursday’s press conference that in the future they would be interested to have FOX become a TV partner in other countries around the world as the rights become available.
ESPN UK’s deal with the UFC ends next year and it should be noted that there is already an ‘FX UK’ channel in place which airs a host of both FX and non-FX related U.S programming such as Dexter, The Walking Dead, NCIS and Family Guy.
FX UK is available on both the SKY and Virgin Media platforms which would be seen as a plus point and thought it’s viewing figures are still low, taking just a 0.3% a audience share (comparable with Sky Sports 2), that’s still higher than ESPN who barely even move the needle enough to register at 0.1% (figures from July 2011 /BARB).