How would WWE moving to Fox Sports 1 impact the UFC?
With their NBC Universal TV contract expiring in a couple of months, WWE has laid down the gauntlet in regards to accepting bids to move their programming to another network in 2014.
One of those channels in the running could involve Fox Sports 1, currently the home for the UFC. The UFC is paid over $90 million dollars a year in fees. The WWE is looking for hundreds of millions of dollars in fees per year. The amount they are asking for would dwarf what UFC is currently getting.
So, what’s the connection between WWE and UFC? History says the connection exists and it is strong.
The best of friends… sometimes
Dana White & Vince McMahon have a rather… peculiar… business relationship. It was RAW programming on Monday nights a decade ago on Spike TV that helped give The Ultimate Fighter a lead-in for ratings. That boost helped propel stars like Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, and Kenny Florian. The end result is that the UFC experienced a boom period while WWE left Spike. The UFC became the king of Spike and then broke off that marriage to go to Fox Sports.
Now the loop may be closing with both WWE & UFC potentially on the same network. And WWE fans are already salivating at the prospects of mocking UFC as WWE’s kid brother.
Truth is often stranger than fiction and there is a definite crossover between the two fan bases. A heavy portion of UFC’s audience is into professional wrestling. Brock Lesnar was UFC’s biggest PPV draw. WWE was practically orgasmic at the fact that one of the stars they helped create became a huge icon in a “real sport.” Lesnar’s success coming back from UFC to WWE hasn’t been so hot, however. Nonetheless, that crossover is something both White & McMahon fully understand and appreciate. The two men like to argue in public about how many female fans they have but the reality is that male pro-wrestling fans still are a heavy driver for television ratings for both organizations.
Should WWE sign a deal with Fox Sports, it will put UFC into a corner where they will have to promote WWE events and vice versa similar to how Bellator & TNA promote each other on Spike. Spike embraces that crossover appeal and understands it. The arrangement may be a little bit more uncomfortable at Fox.
Such a move would immediately give UFC critics ammunition to try to lump UFC and WWE together as one and the same. They’re different entities, although UFC is often watched by wrestling fans as an “alternative” to pro-wrestling when they think the wrestling product sucks.
The good news for UFC is that, should WWE bring RAW & Smackdown to Fox Sports 1, it will give them an opportunity to move programming like The Ultimate Fighter into positions to take advantage of WWE’s ratings. In other words, what’s old is new and what’s new is old. I’m having flashbacks to Tito Ortiz & Ken Shamrock right about now.
Taking the good with the bad
If Fox Sports 1 does make a significant play for WWE programming, it would put UFC in an uncomfortable position on the network. When the network was launched last August, UFC was one of the major cornerstones. While it is still a big cornerstone, the ratings have been wildly inconsistent and all over the place. WWE may experience the same issues UFC has had in terms of trying to generate ratings and PPV buys from the FS1 platform. UFC recently admitted that they stopped producing Primetime PPV preview shows because the cost/benefit ratio was just too high for the low ratings the shows drew on FS1. UFC didn’t have such a problem when they were on Spike.
There would certainly be some jealousy at UFC HQ if WWE invaded Fox Sports turf. UFC would have to transition from a cornerstone of the channel to become one of many different sports properties like Pac 12 & Big 12 college football along with US Open golf and college basketball. The glass half-full way to look at WWE on FS1 is that it could help raise the ratings for UFC programming and therefore increase UFC’s asking price if they want to negotiate a new contract with Fox. The glass half-empty approach is that UFC does suffer from the image of being WWE’s kid brother and starts losing popularity & steam by being on the same platform as the McMahon empire.
You can bet the powers-that-be at UFC HQ in Las Vegas are paying very close attention to what is happening with WWE’s TV negotiations for the 2014 campaign. May they live in interesting times.