The UFC made a splashy debut for Fox Sports 1, the new ESPN competitor that kicked off its prime-time broadcast schedule two weeks ago with an unexpectedly successful fight card headlined by Chael Sonnen and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. On Wednesday, Fox Sports 1 steps into the Octagon once again, this time with significantly less fanfare and hype but with significantly more people aware the channel even exists who are clear about how to find it on their cable systems.
How will the UFC fare with what will be a more typical night of programming, with Martin Kampmann and Carlos Condit headlining instead of fighters who normally fight on pay-per-view or Fox? What is the long-term future for the sport with the Fox family? Fox Broadcasting senior vice president of programming and research Mike Mulvihill gave us a few minutes of his time late last week to discuss what's to come.
Jonathan Snowden, Bleacher Report Lead Combat Sports Writer: The ratings seemed to be a huge success for the UFC's debut. What can we expect going forward? What constitutes a rating success for the UFC, for example, on Wednesday night?
Mike Mulvihill, Fox Broadcasting's Senior Vice President of Programming and Research: You have to evaluate each event in its own context. Success for an FS1 event in July is going to be measured differently than success for a Fox broadcast event in December. In general, we’re looking for evidence that UFC is growing and further establishing itself as one of the most popular sports among younger fans. Given that our FS1 Fight Night on August 17th beat every network on television among Men 18-34 and Men 18-49, I think the evidence shows we’re going in the right direction.
Snowden: Will you have a show that rivals the first one, or was that special for the debut?
Mulvihill: We will absolutely have shows that rival or surpass the quality of our debut. In fact, I feel confident that we will have an event before the end of this year that will surpass even the quality of our debut night.
Snowden: How will you decide dates for UFC events? It has to be convenient that the events are potentially so flexible? That's versatility conventional sports programming doesn't offer because it is locked in place.
Mulvihill: It’s very much a collaborative process in which we have to take into account their pay-per-view dates, our other programming commitments and arena availability. It’s a never-ending conversation and it works.
As far as setting the matchups themselves, they are the experts at setting matchups and we trust them to be the experts. Just as in our relationship with the NFL or MLB, we have some ability to have a voice in the process, but in the end it’s up to them to determine what will work.
Snowden: Will you put certain fighters on the shows consistently to build Fox-branded fighters? Spike did this successfully and had athletes that were associated with its brand as well as the UFC brand.
Mulvihill: I think we have to simply take the best fights and best fighters that we can get for every event and not worry too much about having fighters that are identified with Fox. Fans are too smart. They see right through that kind of stuff. If we simply showcase the best of the sport that’s available to us at every opportunity, our brand identity will emerge organically.
Snowden: Does Fox think that there is crossover potential with UFC fans for your other sports programming? And vice versa? Or are UFC fans essentially gifts that exist to create the occasional strong rating but won't stick around for other sports on FS1?
Mulvihill: We strongly, 100 percent believe that there is great crossover potential. Part of our motivation in creating Fox Sports 1 was the belief that all of our properties would benefit from being surrounded by the others.
UFC will benefit from being attached to traditional mainstream sports like MLB and NASCAR, and those sports will benefit from being attached to the youth and energy of UFC. We believe that all of our partners will benefit from being on a general-interest sports network that has something for every type of fan.
Snowden: I was very intrigued to see the Sports Business Journal story on FS1's Hard Knocks-style baseball show called Mission October. Can we expect similar glimpses into the MMA world on FS1 in the future?
Mulvihill: It’s a little premature to say. I will say that anyone who has watched Fox Sports 1 would have to acknowledge that UFC is a big part of who we are, not just on the fight nights but 24/7. We’ve already had Dana live in our studio as a guest on Fox Sports Live, we are premiering TUF on September 4th and I know we’ll be looking for opportunities to highlight the top stories in UFC across our schedule.
UFC Fight Night 27: Condit vs. Kampmann airs Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The prelims will begin on Fox Sports 2 at 6 p.m. ET, with two fights scheduled on Facebook starting at 5 p.m. ET.