The UFC’s television contract renewal situation just heated up, with rumors flowing that the company is set to buy a majority stake in Comcast’s G4 network and move off Spike. Details on how far along a deal for the gaming network is are sketchy, but several serious media outlets confirmed that UFC and Comcast people sat down on Wednesday to discuss it.
So with all this G4 talk, what about Spike TV? They are apparently planning for a future without the UFC:
In recent days, sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told MMA Fighting that Spike, which has been the home of the UFC since 2005, is essentially preparing for life without UFC, and that it will move the Bellator promotion on to the channel in 2012.
For the last several days, the internal belief within Spike had been that G4 would ultimately become the UFC’s home for The Ultimate Fighter and other broadcast events. The scope of the deal, and that cable channel ownership was in the works, comes as something of a surprise, even though in the past UFC president Dana White has spoken of the possibility.
G4 is currently owned by Comcast, the parent company of UFC television partner Versus.
While nothing is close to final, Spike is no longer aggressively seeking to renew its deal with UFC, practically ensuring that the promotion will find a new home for its Ultimate Fighter series, along with other UFC programming.
According to the New York Times, Spike balked when the UFC asked for 325 million bucks a year, up from the 170 million they made under the old deal. I don’t have a lot of context to put these numbers up against, but looking at this list MMA Payout put together of other sports TV deals, 325 million is pretty high up there. We can only hope this figure represents the kind of numbers the UFC is being offered from Comcast to defect.
As for the G4 move, it’s pretty fucking bold and risky. This is Dana White saying ‘We helped build Spike TV up from it’s pathetic origins, and we can do it again with G4.’ But G4 is one of the lowest rated cable channels Comcast has (marketing research once found nearly 60% of people who got the channel didn’t even know it existed), and getting it to a point where it has similar exposure to Spike will take time, money, and a lot of business smarts. How the UFC plans to run it’s new channel will have a lot to do with how everything turns out. Will it become a Spike clone looking to muscle in on the idiot 18-34 male demographic? An actual UFC channel with fighting or fighting related shows all the time? We’ll have to wait and see.
I also hope G4 is just one of the pieces in a larger deal with Comcast that involves shows on Versus (soon to be known as NBC Sports), USA, and of course network shows on NBC itself. Add all those bits together and you’ve got yourself a deal worth leaving Spike TV over. If it goes wrong, you’ll be able to point to it as the moment the UFC shot itself in the face. But if they pull it off, who knows how big the sport could grow?