Given the bloodshed and controlled violence that are hallmarks of mixed martial arts events, advertisers understandably have been skittish about aligning themselves with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But in the run-up to the UFC’s national broadcast TV debut, media buyers say demand for Fox’s new sports property should be fast and furious.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, Fox will step into the UFC octagon for the first time with a special one-hour, two-fight card set to air live from Anaheim, Calif. In a sense, the short program will serve as the undercard to HBO’s pay-per-view presentation of the WBO welterweight title bout between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.
The Pacquiao-Marquez fight will take place shortly after 10 p.m. EDT, allowing UFC fans to jump over to HBO’s PPV offering without missing a beat.
While the UFC card hasn’t been announced, Fox is likely to get things started with a bone-crushing meeting between some of the sport’s biggest names, bruisers like current heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez and the widely reviled Brock Lesnar. Whoever makes the cut, the commercial slots should be accounted for well before the opening bell.
One national TV buyer who represents a client that has bought time on Spike TV’s UFC programming said he wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more mainstream brands begin to line up for MMA events. “Content is definitely an issue, but no one’s going into this with their eyes closed,” said Kevin Collins, director of national broadcast buying for Initiative. “You’re not going to get your traditional Sunday NFL audience, but I expect you’ll find a lot of theatrical dollars, as well as QSR and beer.”
Fox certainly did its due diligence before jumping into the ring with the UFC—10 years’ worth, according to Fox Sports chairman David Hill. As such there’s little fear that it won’t be able to make things work on the sponsorship front.
“We did a lot of research before making this deal,” Hill said. “There might be a few companies that have a ‘Do Not Buy’ on the UFC, but there are a hell of a lot of companies that have a ‘Do Buy.’ If you look at the history of the Fox sports media group and what we do, we didn’t go into this with our fingers crossed.”
While the UFC’s Fox premiere is garnering a lot of attention, the bulk of the organization’s commitment is with cable network FX. Fox will carry four UFC brawls per year, while FX is slated to carry 32 weekly events, including the reality series The Ultimate Fighter. And whereas the median age of the Fox viewer is 49 years old, FX is in no danger of aging out of the 18-49 demo, boasting a median age of 38.
Age and gender affinities appear to make FX a perfect partner for the UFC. Nearly 80 percent of the sport’s fans are male and more than half reside in the 18-34 demo. “Looking at that young demo, it’s always wavering,” said Hill. “The young men who are growing up with the sport . . . will go on to teach their kids.”
The alliance should also go a long way toward reinforcing FX’s position as a full-service entertainment network that just happens to reside on the cable dial. That same mix of original and off-net series, acquired movies, and sports has given TNT a license to print money, and Hill hasn’t been shy about wanting to hop aboard the gravy train.