UK Fans Could Miss Out on UFC 99

MMADieHards.comCorrespondent IJune 10, 2009

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 23:  British Ultimate Fighting Champion Michael Bisping (L) and US fighter Forrest Griffin pose for photographs during the photocall to announce the arrival of Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts in the UK. 23 February, 2007, Manchester, England. Ultimate fighting, a mixture of martial arts is claimed to be one of the world's fastest growing sports and the largest championship in Britain is to be staged at Manchester's MEN arena on 21st April.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Written by Trev Croft

In the UK, UFC programming is exclusively owned by Irish based sports broadcaster Setanta Sports. Events are typically shown live with supporting content on the channel's free-to-air sports news service.

In addition to all UFC programming, the subscription channel has invested heavily in English and Scottish Premier (soccer) League games and England's international (soccer) qualification matches, as well as golf, rugby, and boxing.

This high-risk big-spending approach has left the network on the brink of imminent liquidation, a development which could signal a disastrous blackout on all UFC programming in the UK as early as UFC 99.

The broadcaster is currently locked in crisis talks, with shareholders, who are unlikely (and in all probability unable) to pick up the mounting tab. Huge payments have already been missed, most notably to the Scottish Premier League.

A pending £3m payment to the English (soccer) League (part of an overall package worth over £400million) looks likely to be the final nail in the UFC-rights holding broadcaster's coffin.

Setanta Sports has over a million subscribers, but has fallen well short of the subscriber base required to turn a profit on it's massive investments by as much as 40 percent.

With losses currently in excess of £100million per year, the fast moving situation is going from bad to worse at a dramatic pace. Prominent media company BSkyB is reported to have rejected a "wholesale" bid for the channel's assets earlier today.

And prospective buyers (including British Telecommunications and Disney's ESPN) could follow BSkyB's lead in sitting back and refusing Setanta a rescue deal. Asset prices will continue to plummet, and prospective buyers will look to sift through the wreckage once the price hit rock bottom.

As far as the UFC is concerned, Virgin Media, who currently co-broadcast the Reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter with Setanta, look to be the most likely destination for the Zuffa promotion's programming.

They previously carried free-to-air UFC programming on their men's lifestyle platform Bravo. But as the price of Setanta's Rights packages continue to plummet, a permanent switch to any new broadcaster will be unlikely to happen in time for UFC 99.

The much troubled Irish broadcaster has offered a variety of UFC programming to date (for around $28 USD per month). Coverage has included live UFC events, reruns, highlights packages, and best-of show Unleashed, as well as a regular weekly magazine programme Ultimate Talk. But, the broadcaster has been beset by a variety of technical and service issues.

Ambitious over spending, heavy borrowing, and the rising cost of credit in the wake of the global financial crisis have sealed the Broadcaster's fate, and thrown the UFC's already costly European expansion plans (for the moment) into a tailspin.

Where all this leaves the UFC's pending German debut is (presently) anyone's guess.