If you were told the NFL Network’s right to Thursday Night Football had been bought out by, say, the Food Network, and that all production of those games would be done in the style of all other Food Network programming, how would you react?
It would be the same talking heads and athletes you know, but there would be Food Network personalities horned in wherever they’d fit, Food Network graphics all over the place, Food Network music playing prior to the game. Basically, it would take all that you know and like about the production of the NFL Network, all that they know about how to broadcast their own league, and replace it for no reason other than to say that they did.
Doesn’t sound great, does it?
Well, if you’ve been looking at the early days of the UFC on FOX, that’s basically what you've seen.
It was interesting at first to see how FOX Sports married itself to the sport of MMA and how the brand would play with that of the UFC. Since then it’s become less interesting, more clumsy and awkward.
FOX has its plan and it believes it knows sports and how to broadcast them. That’s probably true, as it routinely does excellent work with the NFL and MLB, plus the other sports it covers that don’t get as much attention as they should.
However, MMA is a different beast, and no one does it better than the UFC (especially now that the horrendous Gladiator opening has been retired). The UFC understands how to deliver fights, how to hype them and how to optimize the viewing experience. FOX, on the other hand, does not.
Having a booth above the arena where fighters sit at a desk and discuss fights doesn’t work for MMA—at least not unless the guys are polished in front of the camera. Randy Couture and Stephan Bonnar can get by, a swaggering Jon Jones reading his notes verbatim definitely can’t. The same goes for any combination that involves Dana White, who simply can’t give unbiased analysis and be credible doing so.
Curt Menefee has been a revelation thanks to his natural smoothness, but why not have Jon Anik—a guy who actually knows the sport—in that seat on nights he’s not calling the fights? Or even try Ariel Helwani, who knows the sport and has paid his dues covering it when no one cared. Regardless, if it isn’t Menefee, it surely shouldn’t be Jay Glazer, whose lack of charisma is only matched by his lack of comfort in guiding discussion for the camera.
Make no mistake, some of the FOX additions have been good. A more in-depth pre- and post-fight show is nice, and Anik alongside Kenny Florian is as good as or better than the tired tandem of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. They’ve also brought pre-fight interviews into the mix and a more “sporty” (for lack of a better word) feel to the broadcast overall.
It’s still early in the relationship between the FOX family and the UFC, and it will get better. People have absolutely jumped off the deep end at this stage, thinking the sky is falling because things haven’t been fantastic off the hop. That’s not the case, but some things definitely need to be reined in going forward.
Dana White was right to say he’d take the advice of FOX on some production issues, because it knows a lot about doing sports right. However, FOX would be wise to open its doors to the UFC in a similar fashion, because it's proved in the early going of this relationship that it definitely doesn’t have all the answers.