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Sunday, May 22, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC Signs a Huge Deal with Spike TV

by Ivan Trembow for MMAWeekly.com

I recently wrote an article called The Future of the UFC on Cable Television, and now that future has been realized. Recently, the announcement came that MMA fans have been waiting years to hear: The UFC has signed a long-term deal to air live fight events on cable television on a regular basis. Not all of the details on the UFC's new deal with Spike TV were included in the press release, so here is the rest of the information that we've been able to obtain. This is essentially a three-component deal, with three different parts that are all complement each other but are still separate.

Component #1: The Reality Series
The first component of the deal is that the hit reality series "The Ultimate Fighter" has not only been renewed for a second season, but also for a third season. The second season's filming is scheduled to begin in June, and the season premiere will be on Monday, August 22nd at 11:05 PM after WWE Raw. That much information was already known. What wasn't known was how WWE's exit from Spike TV would affect UFC programming.

When WWE programming leaves Spike TV and heads back to USA Network in late September, original episodes of The Ultimate Fighter will no longer air on Monday nights and will instead begin to air on Saturday nights. Though the replay schedules for each week's new episode of The Ultimate Fighter have not yet been disclosed, the debut airing of the first five episodes will be on Monday night at 11:05 PM. The next seven episodes of the series will debut in a new Saturday night timeslot that has not been decided, but will likely be 9:00 PM. The 13th and final episode of the second season will air as a live fight special on a Saturday night, just as the first season finale did.

The third season of The Ultimate Fighter will hit the airwaves sometimes in 2006, and it will also have 12 pre-taped episodes and a live season finale with live fights. It is expected to have the same Saturday night timeslot that the second season will eventually settle into, although there remains a small chance that the show could be moved to a different night for its third season.

Component #2: Live Fight Specials on Spike TV
In addition to the reality series and its live season finales, the UFC will also produce live fight specials that will air on Spike TV with original UFC fights. Two live fight specials are scheduled to air on Spike TV before the end of 2005, one of which is expected to be the live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter's second season in early December. The other live fight special of 2005 is tentatively scheduled to be on Saturday, August 20th, in order to promote the season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter two days later.

Four additional live fight specials are scheduled to air on Spike TV in 2006. All of these live fight specials are scheduled to air on Saturday night, although no exact timeslot has been announced.

Component #3: Pre-Taped "Best of UFC" Shows on Spike TV
The deal also calls for the UFC to produce 26 different "Best of UFC" shows, with twelve years of fights dating back to UFC 1 that the UFC can use as material to fill these shows. The wording of the press release left the possibility open that some of the content on these shows might be highlights of past fights, in addition to showing complete fights from the past. A final name for the shows has not yet been decided.

The tentative plan for the Saturday timeslot is to have one of the "Best of UFC" shows air at 8:00 PM, then a new episode of The Ultimate Fighter at 9:00 PM, and then another one of the "Best of UFC" shows at 10:00 PM.

On any given week, one of those two "Best of UFC" shows would be a repeat of a previously aired "Best of UFC" special, while the other one would be a "Best of UFC" special that has not aired before. It has not yet been decided which would air at 8:00 PM and which would air at 10:00 PM, but in any case, each new episode of The Ultimate Fighter would be surrounded by a pair of "Best of UFC" shows.

In addition to all of the UFC programming that will air on Spike TV, Fox Sports Net will continue to air pre-taped "Best of UFC" shows, which have been among the most-watched shows on all of FSN in recent months.

The Saturday Night Factor, and a Look Ahead
Other than the first five episodes of The Ultimate Fighter's second season, all of the programming that the UFC is producing for Spike TV will debut on Saturday night. This has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantage is that Saturday night is already established in much of the American public's mind as "fight night," with UFC and boxing pay-per-views almost always airing on Saturday nights.

The obvious disadvantage is that on the whole, Saturday night is the least-watched night of television by far every single week. However, the first season finale of The Ultimate Fighter on April 9th was still able to draw a strong 2.6 million viewers, despite this disadvantage, and it was the most-watched show on any channel (broadcast or cable) in the key demographic of 18 to 34 year old males.

It's also interesting to note that Spike TV wanted to have a Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar rematch live on Spike TV on June 4th right before the UFC 53 pay-per-view went on the air, but the UFC didn't want to give away the Griffin-Bonnar rematch on free television due to the belief that Griffin vs. Bonnar II has the potential to draw pay-per-view buys when it happens.

All three components of the deal between the UFC and Spike TV run from now until the end of 2006, at which point the UFC will either A) Get renewed with a huge increase in rights fees in the best-case scenario, B) Get cancelled in the worst-case scenario, or C) Possibly have other cable networks bid on UFC programming if it proves to be successful on Spike TV over the next year and a half. In any case, the sport of mixed martial arts will receive more mainstream exposure in 2005 and 2006 than it has received in every year of the past decade combined.

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