When a deal was struck between the UFC and Fox for the UFC to be broadcast regularly on network television, most MMA fans became ecstatic at the prospect of what could happen.
Subsequently, pundits of the sport cringed at the thought of the sport becoming mainstream After all, to many of them and others who don't quite understand the sport, it's just a couple of guys performing barbaric cage fighting.
It seems as though the network television deal has coincided perfectly with the momentum the UFC has managed to gather over the last few years. The popularity of the UFC and the sport of MMA have continued to surge in 2012, thanks in part to the exposure on the Fox networks.
But what is in it for Fox?
Dana White dismisses much of the ratings talk, especially when it comes to The Ultimate Fighter series. However, isn't that always the bottom line with the networks? With the correlation between ratings and advertising dollars being obvious to most, one has to wonder if the UFC has been as beneficial to Fox as Fox has been to the UFC.
The most significant positive for Fox in the deal has been the increased subscriber base of Fuel TV. According to a report done by adcombat.com based on facts from Nielsen Media Research, Fuel TV is the fastest growing ad-supported cable network:
Thanks in large part to the popularity of UFC® programs on the network, FUEL TV continues to be the fastest growing ad-supported cable network in percentage year-over-year growth in 2012 among households, total viewers, and men 18-49 during total day and prime time, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The two most common complaints I hear about Fuel TV are, "I'm not paying extra to get it added to my service" and "I wish it was in HD."
Personally, I think the production value of the UFC content on Fuel TV has been great. It is included in my television package, but the HD feed of the network is not available with my carrier (Verizon FiOS).
Fuel TV has benefited from the UFC in the same way Spike TV did. Spike saw their viewers drop after the UFC ended their agreement with them, and now they are trying to bounce back with the acquisition of Bellator.
Fox's other main channel is FX. FX has been providing good content for many years now and had already established a solid reputation with its viewers. The UFC recognized that and is capitalizing by broadcasting TUF there.
The first couple of seasons haven't been great from a ratings standpoint, and there has definitely been some "trial and error" in how they have gone about their programming (i.e., the disaster that was showing TUF live on Fridays, which prevented them from building up strong storylines).
Most of us would expect TUF to receive record ratings for the upcoming season with Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen coaching against each other.
The Fox executives would not have pulled the trigger on the UFC deal if they didn't envision this kind of growth within their network. Ratings for the UFC events are what most will point too when gauging the success of the partnership, but there are quite a few more variables to the equation.
The UFC is going to win either way by the exposure it gets from national television and the opportunities it has opened up for other major sponsorships for the company and the individual fighters.
2013 is looking bright for both the UFC and Fox.
Joe Chacon is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and a staff writer for Operation Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeChacon.
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