Commentary: New TV Deals Show Growth in MMA and Soccer

It’s been a month of major growth for both Major League Soccer and Ultimate Fighting Championship, as both signed huge telecast deals that will expand their presence on network television.

MLS ended their eight year relationship with FOX Soccer Channel after coming to terms with NBC Sports, a deal believed to be worth somewhere between $10-$12 million per year for three years.

MLS’ new telecast package, which also includes digital rights across all platforms, breaks down to:

NBC

  • Two regular-season games per year.
  • Two playoff games per year.
  • Two U.S. Men’s national team games per year.

NBC Sports Network (formerly known as Versus)

  • 38 regular-season games per year
  • Three playoff games per year
  • Two U.S. Men’s national team per year

The deal also includes pre-game and post-game coverage as well as cross-promotion during “Sunday Night Football”, Stanley Cup, and Olympic telecasts.

The move from FSC to NBC Sports was a no-brainer. FSC is in 40 million homes while NBC Sports Network reaches 80 million. While FSN caters to the hardcore soccer fan, MLS is at point of growth where more exposure – on a national network – would be more beneficial towards expanding the sport and the name brand.

“If you look at the popularity of the World Cup and the almost ubiquity of the sport in America today, it’s a natural step we would evolve from what was a great relationship with Fox Soccer Channel, albeit a niche network, to broader broadcast, cable and digital platforms,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

Though the NBC Sports deal won’t affect MLS’ current contracts with ESPN and Univision, it may give the league some negotiating leverage down road, as all of MLS’ media rights end in 2014 – a World Cup year.

“The key thing for us relates to 2014,” said Garber. “This three-year deal allows us to align all our TV relationships to end concurrently at end of ‘14 season and provides us with a potential opportunity to have more exclusive relationship with a broadcaster.”

As for the UFC, their seven-year deal with FOX, estimated to be worth more than $600 million, is the culmination of a sport that was once deemed to bloody for the public by both sponsors and the major networks.

UFC’s presence on FOX not only gives the company an instant and powerful mainstream foothold but it also puts them in a position to be the gold standard in mixed martial arts.

“This is what I always felt was the pinnacle for us,” said UFC president Dana White. “Not just to be on the No. 1 network in the country, but to be on a network with other big sports – the NFL, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, etc. It’s going to take the sport to the next level.”

The new deal with the MMA outfit specifies:

  • FOX Sports will air four live UFC events.
  • “The Ultimate Fighter” (TUF) reality show will air on FX.
  • UFC will provide programming for Fuel TV (FOX’s extreme sports network), including preliminary fights as well as pre- and post-fight coverage.
  • FX will air “Fight Night” – featuring up and coming fighters.

The biggest changes will be seen and felt in the production of TUF. Spike TV filmed the reality show months in advance and aired the finale live, featuring the show’s finalists in the main event, and used the free card to promote upcoming pay-per-views, in which the TUF coaches would face-off.

Under the FOX banner, episodes will be shot the same week they air – filming Saturday through Thursday – with a fan-chosen fight airing live on Fridays. Season finales will be televised live on FX and will include the TUF coaches.

“As far as multi-platform deals where I control my production like I want to, this deal worked out perfect,” Dana White said to AOL/MMAFighting.com’s Ariel Helwani.

“They understand the power of the network platform,” said Fox Sports Media Group Chairman David Hill. “The more people watching on the network, the more that will buy the pay-per-views. It all flows. We knew we didn’t have to say a word when we were negotiating, because it’s in their best interest to have the best possible fights because it fuels the market.”

The UFC will flex their newfound mainstream muscle right away, scheduling their first FOX network event on the same night boxing superstar, Manny Pacquiao, faces off against Juan Manuel Márquez on pay-per-view.

“We’ll be out of there before Pacquiao even walks to the ring,” UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. “This is going to be a perfect night for any fight fan. Get together with your friends, watch two big fights in the UFC and then change the channel to ride into the Pacquiao pay-per-view.”

Not bad power moves for two sports organizations many expected to fold a decade ago.

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