— In a move that will bring mixed martial arts' top league to network television for the first time, the UFC and FOX on Thursday announced a seven-year deal that will spread UFC content among several FOX-owned networks.
Under terms of the deal, FOX will broadcast four major events per year, while FX will broadcast six "Fight Night" events as well as becoming the new home for the UFC's longtime reality show, "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2012. FUEL will also air select UFC programming as well.
"This is something we firmly believe in," said FOX Sports chairman and CEO David Hill. "We're passionate about it."
The move marks the end of the UFC's six-year alliance with Spike, its longtime partner which helped the promotion enter mainstream consciousness by inking it to a deal back in 2005.
UFC executives said that broadening the company's audience through FOX's reach was one of the key points in making a deal.
"This deal with FOX will take this to a whole new level in every way, shape and form," said UFC president Dana White.
As part of the deal, the UFC will host its first FOX event on November 12, boldly taking on boxing pay-per-view draw Manny Pacquiao on the same night he faces Juan Manuel Marquez. That may serve as a sort of introductory event to FOX viewers. The rest of the UFC on FOX programming will begin in January 2012.
The Ultimate Fighter is expected to undergo a series of changes, according to UFC president Dana White. Portions of the show will be taped, while each fight will air live on Friday nights, with fans and viewers having some input into formulating matchups.
Two seasons of TUF will air each season.
In addition to that shakeup, White said that the UFC is using the move as a "fresh start," and the promotion is planning to overhaul many facets of their event presentation, though he offered few specifics. Under terms of the deal, the UFC will continue to produce its own events, while FOX will produce pre- and post-fight shows.
“We’re not an emerging network anymore and they’re not an emerging professional sport anymore,” said FX Network president John Landgraf. “We’re just really thrilled to have The Ultimate Fighter. Dana and [Zuffa chairman] Lorenzo [Fertitta] have come up with ideas that are going to revolutionize it and absolutely take it to a new level."
White and Fertitta first met Hill a decade ago. At the time, Hill didn't understand MMA or its lure, but he says he's been won over by the UFC's production as well as their ability to draw the desired male 18-34 demographic.
Hill said that while he grew up on boxing, "there's no yesterday in TV. Television is all about the next big thing."
In his estimation, that is MMA, and more specifically, the UFC, giving the Las Vegas-based promotion a home on broadcast TV alongside the other major sports like the NFL and Major League Baseball. It is a home which White felt the UFC would eventually find.
“This partnership is going to be amazing,” White said. “It’s going to take this sport to the next level. All those people who said I was a lunatic 10 years ago when I said this was going to be the biggest sport in the world, here we are. This is the first step.”