Fox Sports is stepping into the octagon with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, inking a seven-year rights deal with the mixed martial arts organization.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed but sources said Fox Sports will pony up around $90 million per year for the package.
While the bulk of the UFC events will air on FX, the broadcast network is also getting into the act. Fox will carry four UFC brawls per year, while FX is slated to carry 32 weekly events, including the unscripted series The Ultimate Fighter.
Fox Sports chairman and CEO David Hill said he first began discussing a deal with the UFC a decade ago. “Sports in television is the ultimate democratic process,” Hill said. “Television can’t make a sport, it can only enhance it. . . . I can’t overemphasize the way this sport has grown in 10 years.”
The UFC will continue to handle production for the fights, while Fox will manage pre- and postshow coverage.
Fox Sports is still working out the logistics of promoting the UFC across the networks. “A lot of the tactical ideas are yet to come,” said Fox Sports president Eric Shanks. “We’re digging in today to figure that out.”
The UFC is a particularly good fit for FX, which specializes in scripted bad-assery (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy), irreverent, guy-friendly comedy (The League, Louie, Archer), and movies. Lately, it has begun investing in sports properties—this year FX will air weekly Pac-12 and Big 12 college football games.
FX is also eyeing the new NFL package, which goes up for bid next month. Expected to launch at the start of the 2012 season, the eight-game Thursday night slate should fetch around $600 million per year.
“Both UFC and FX have shown tremendous growth over the last 10 years. We’re no longer an emerging network; we’re established,” said FX president John Landgraf. “Our ratings are up there with all the other networks on an entertainment business. Our competitors had professional sports to set them apart and now so do we.”
In the second quarter of 2011, FX finished sixth in the race for adults 18-49, averaging 717,000 members of the demo in prime time, up 16 percent versus the year-ago period.