Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 | 2:04 p.m.
The UFC is coming to network television.
UFC President Dana White, CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and several Fox network executives held a news conference to announce a groundbreaking seven-year television deal for the Las Vegas-based promotion. Fox will broadcast four live fight cards per year with 32 more events slated to appear on its network of channels, including FX and Fuel TV.
“There’s been a lot of big milestones we’ve had over the last 10 years in building this company and growing this sport,” White said. “But I have to be totally honest when I say this is the biggest.”
“This is what I always wanted. This is what I always felt was the pinnacle for us.”
White revealed the date for the first UFC event on Fox as Nov. 12. He said no fights were booked yet, but expected the card to take place in Anaheim, Calif.
The contract is rumored to be worth as much as $100 million per year, but Fox Sports Chairman and CEO David Hill wouldn’t reveal the official amount.
“This is not just a simple deal where we’re going to put a big fight on TV,” Fertitta said. “This is going to touch every aspect of this company.”
Although it will consult with Fox, the UFC will be in control of the fight night production. Hill had no reservations about the arrangement because “they’re doing a fantastic job as it is,” he said.
White said the promotion planned to update many parts of its presentation, which included getting rid of the traditional gladiator entrance video at the start of main cards.
That’s a minuscule change compared with what the UFC and Fox plan to do with “The Ultimate Fighter.” Starting with the 15th season in spring 2012, “The Ultimate Fighter” will air on FX. For the past six years, it has gone through 14 seasons where it was filmed in Las Vegas and aired months later on Spike.
Now, FX will film the fighters’ preparation for four days and show it in the hour preceding their live matchup. Fans will decide which cast members fight each other by voting online.
“This is revolutionary television right here,” White said.
FX will show two seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” per year, which will translate to 24 episodes. The network will also air the two finale fight cards and six Fight Night events.
“We’re not an emerging network anymore and they’re not an emerging professional sport anymore,” said John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX. “On an entertaining programming basis, we can now stand toe to toe with anybody in our competitive set — with USA, TNT, TBS.”
“What distinguished them from us is they had professional sports. Now, so do we. I think putting the UFC on FX puts us on a level playing field with our competitors.”
Another key selling point for Fox was the UFC’s success in attracting the key demographic of 18- to 34-year-old males, according to Hill. He said he thought the new generation looked at mixed martial arts the way he viewed boxing in his youth.
“Historically, fights have been great big events in sports,” Fertitta said. “That’s what we’re going to bring back to the United States.”
Fuel TV will host pre- and post-shows after UFC events. The station will also show preliminary bouts leading into UFC’s pay-per-view main cards.
In essence, the combination of FX and Fuel TV will take over the role Spike has provided for nearly a decade. The contract with Spike ends this year, which made the UFC a coveted free agent for television executives.
“You had basically every major broadcaster out there vying for these rights,” Fertitta said. “It wasn’t a situation where it was a one-horse race. Everyone wanted to be involved with the UFC.”
Early rumors linked the UFC to a potential deal with NBC Sports, but that never came to fruition. Fox Sports President Eric Shanks and Hill were willing to do whatever they could to land the UFC.
“This partnership is going to be amazing,” White said. “It’s going to take the sport to the next level. And all those people out there who thought I was a lunatic 10 years ago when I said this sport was going to be the biggest in the world, here we are. This is the first step.”