Later on Tuesday, Fox will announce the official August launch of Fox Sports 1, a new 24-hour cable sports network modeled after ESPN that will feature college football, Major League Baseball, non-English Premier League soccer matches and NASCAR races.
The new network will also heavily feature the Ultimate Fighting Championship. All sporting events that currently feature on FX are believed to be moving over to Fox Sports 1 once the station launches, though we don't yet know if that means that The Ultimate Fighter reality show will also make the switch; Fox brass has yet to announce whether or not they consider the show "entertainment" as opposed to traditional sports.
What does the new channel—and its eventual sister channel Fox Sports 2—mean for fans of the UFC?
At first, it looks pretty simple: events that are currently dubbed UFC on FX will make the switchover to the new station. They'll likely receive new branding and be called UFC on Fox Sports or something similar.
As mentioned above, we don't currently know if The Ultimate Fighter will keep its current home on FX or if it will make the leap to the new network. They're keeping entertainment-based shows on FX, with sporting events moving to Fox Sports 1. If you're asking me to make a guess, I'd wager that it will likely stay on FX since it's considered more entertainment than live sporting event.
Fuel TV, which has been the de facto home of the UFC ever since the new deal with Fox was announced, will keep its branding for now. But plans are already underway for Fuel to become Fox Sports 2, a sister channel for FS1. UFC programming already featured on Fuel will likely stay there, albeit with a change in branding.
How successful will Fox Sports 1 be once they launch? Industry analyst David Bank told the New York Times that while it could take five years to determine the "mega-success" of the station, he believes that Fox Sports 1 will be a success "from Day 1." Bank also said that the day may come when Fox Sports 1 lodges bids for National Basketball Association or NFL cable rights against ESPN.
But again, what does it mean for UFC fans? And, most importantly, will you actually have access to the channel? After all, the UFC currently holds events on Fuel TV that many of you simply cannot see because your cable provider doesn't carry the network. Will you miss another classic fight like the one we saw between Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann last Saturday night?
It appears that most cable providers will carry Fox Sports 1, even though Fox will charge a much higher per-subscriber price than they currently do for Speed, the channel that is actually being turned into FS1. Fox gets around 31 cents per subscriber for Speed, while Fox Sports 1 is estimated to cost cable networks between 75 cents and $1 for each subscriber. It's a hefty difference, but it shows that Fox is treating the network as a premium addition to cable lineups, and I'd expect the programming lineup to reflect that.
At first, live UFC events will suffer; there's simply no way they'll score as many viewers as they do on FX because the network won't be available in as many homes. But over time, as FS1 is added by cable providers, they will eventually get most or all of their current market penetration back. And it's at that point that the UFC can truly capitalize on the new exposure by showing UFC Countdown or primetime shows—the pay per view-building special episodes that are currently only aired in bad time slots on Fuel—in front of the wider audience that Fox Sports 1 will offer.
You might be worried about missing out on UFC events once the new station launches. Never fear; if you're a subscriber to a major cable or satellite network, you'll have Fox Sports 1 on Day 1, and you won't miss any of the special events that the UFC has planned for the network in the fall.
I can't say that you'll have the same ease of use when it comes to the eventual launch of Fox Sports 2; as a boutique channel, it will face the same problems currently faced by Fuel. Chances are, if you don't currently get Fuel, you probably won't get Fox Sports 2, at least not at first. It's pegged as a "companion" channel to Fox Sports 1, which means it falls way down the charts in terms of importance.
But it's clear that News Corporation, as a whole, is putting considerable might and money behind the launch of Fox Sports 1, at least. News Corp. chief executive Rupert Murdoch has sought to create a competitor to rival ESPN for over two decades, and he's finally making the push; Murdoch has never been known as an executive that does anything by half measures, so I'd expect to be inundated with marketing materials for the new station beginning this summer.
And really, that can only be good for the UFC. They're going to be in a prime position on brand new, prime real estate with the power and money of News Corp. behind them. The new station might be just the thing that helps them capture new sports fans who tune in for the football but stay for the fighting.