Still, there have been at least some signs of tension over the last few months. For one, Spike changed TUF’s start time from its customary 10 pm slot to 9 pm this season, a shift that White said was partially responsible for the lower-than-expected ratings. And while Spike declined to comment on ongoing negotiations, a company source questioned some of the booking choices the UFC has made for its Fight Night events.
As an example, he wondered how large an audience would have been drawn to Randy Couture’s last fight had it been the main event of a Spike show rather than airing on pay-per-view.
“I’m not saying they’re not giving us good fights, but there’s a difference between good fights and marquee names,” the source said. “The good fights pull in UFC fans, but the marquee names are the ones that pull in sports fans. That’s how you get those monster ratings.”
Monster ratings like the meh 1.93 rating they got for UFC 105 when Randy fought Brandon Vera on Spike? This may actually be a reason the UFC is considering jumping ship – you can only fly so high on the wings of cable. Monster ratings are the perview of networks. Although to be fair, there is a big difference between a smelly Couture fight like the Vera one and a juicy one like the Machida retirement fight.
Privately, Spike executives are hopeful of retaining a sports property that helped their cable network build an identity, but it’s clear it’s no sure thing. A source with knowledge of the situation told MMA Fighting that Spike has had production executives in attendance at some Bellator events, perhaps keeping an eye on a potential replacement should UFC bolt.
Whew, that just goes to show you how badly the UFC has dominated the MMA landscape in North America. Let’s hope sitting in a casino banquet hall full of empty chairs was enough to make Spike execs reconsider that move. Bellator is okay, but if UFC is the MLB of MMA, Bellator is college softball.
Still, Spike believes its history of working closely with the UFC will win out, noting how many hours the channel devotes to the UFC, and wondering if anyone else could offer the same. While the UFC is a major property for Spike, that might not necessarily be the case at another cabler. It’s also worth noting that Spike is available in 99.4 million homes, about 20 million more than Versus, its most likely rival.
Translation: will Versus use UFC material to plug every hole in their broadcast schedule like SpikeTV does? Will NBC rename an entire month after Brock Lesnar? Is Comcast really ready to love cherish the UFC through good TUFs and bad, diverticulitis and gypsy curses, and of course the occassional bitch / faggot / sexual harassment scandal?