MMAPayout has a great summary/analysis of the latest developments in the UFC’s looming network television deal. Among the revelations:
— CBS’s discussions with the UFC began prior to the writer’s strike, and the deal is not dependent on the strike’s outcome. NBC’s interest, on the other hand, is directly dependent upon the strike; specifically, NBC is interested in MMA as a replacement for Saturday Night Live‘s timeslot if the writer’s strike continues. NBC has also met with M-1, EliteXC, and the IFL.
— CBS is interested in UFC 80 as a taped prime-time special.
— NBC is reportedly unwilling to pay rights fees, instead offering half the advertising inventory and NBC’s prestige and exposure. This is apparently what sunk their talks with the IFL, whose CEO Jay Larkin said, “[P]eople have been giving away this MMA product for so long that it’s very difficult to put on the brakes and say it’s no longer free, we have to get some of these costs covered…Going forward we have to stop giving this product away. It has enormous value….We have to start getting an appropriate license fee arrangement with whoever uses this show.”
— The UFC’s financially shaky and setback-filled year has damaged their bargaining power.
I think it’s safe to say that a major network TV deal is the only thing that will stop the UFC’s bleeding after a year marked by dull PPV cards, costly acquisitions/expansions, fluke upsets, and the “resignation” of one of their biggest stars. But being that you only get one shot to make a first impression, maybe UFC 80 isn’t the best way to debut the brand to an unfamiliar viewership. Though the Penn/Stevenson and Gonzaga/Werdum fights should be exciting, their names are meaningless to those who don’t follow the sport. It seems like Dana White and the Fertittas are panicking and trying to make a big move as soon as possible, when they should wait an extra two weeks to capitalize on the hype of Brock Lesnar‘s debut at UFC 81.
Still, it would be nice to have the UFC fill the SNL spot for a while, if only for the possibility of post-fight interviews being handled by Fred Armisen…