Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Corporate Conspiracy Theory: UFC 125 Prelims on Ion

UFC 125 Prelims to Air on Ion, not Spike. Wait, Ion -- Who?

The Ultimate Fighting Championships announced via its official website, UFC.com, that it will air UFC 125 preliminary bouts on Ion Television, formerly Pax Television. The announcement recognized that this is officially "the first time UFC prelims will air live and free on network television." This means a larger viewer base for the UFC, which in the past has aired its "prelims" on Spike, a specialty cable network. Fans will enjoy three fights off the UFC preliminary card -- Phil Baroni vs. Brad Tavares, Josh Grispi vs. Dustin Poirier, and Marcus Davis vs. Jeremy Stephens.

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But why the change from Spike to Ion?
Well, first the change fulfills a promise that Dana White made a while back -- that the UFC would secure a network television deal by 2011. Here's what Dana told Broadcast & Cable back in October when questioned about his network television ambitions:
"Yes, we will (be on broadcast television). We are working on some things right now. I just can't talk about it at all because we are right in the middle of it."
Now we know what he was probably "in the middle of," a deal with independent network Ion. In the same interview, B&C's Ben Grossman also asked White about his business dealings with other media networks. He inquired about his talks with Fox which by now we can all assume were fruitless. He also inquired into the idea of Zuffa's relationship with Versus leading to a deal with NBC (since they are both owned by Comcast). But, this question came about a month short of Zuffa's WEC-UFC merger announcement. Versus, which was the television home of the WEC, is scheduled to air four UFC events in 2011, but Zuffa has not reported any long term, extensive deals with the Comcast-owned cable station. Also, it should be noted that both NBC and Fox had deals with Bellator at the time. However, Bellator recently announced a deal with MTV2 which leads to my theory.

Here's where the conspiracy theory begins...
MTV2 is owned by MTV Networks which also owns Spike TV, all of which are wholly owned by major media conglomerate Viacom. So, putting two and two together, you have two cable stations, MTV2 and Spike, which are owned by the same parent companies, both broadcasting major mixed martial arts programs, Bellator and the UFC.

I theorize that MTV Networks and ultimately Viacom were attempting to use their broadcasting of Bellator and UFC programs as some sort of intra-competitive marketing scheme. Now, I know that may sound like some really fancy corporate term, but I really made it up (I'm sure there's a better, more accurate, formal term for this and if there is don't hesitate to correct me in the "comments" section). What I'm getting at is MTV/Viacom offering two MMA products to establish a stronghold in the growing MMA market. In other words, Viacom is doing what large corporations like Coca Cola and General Mills do -- they offer a top shelf product, and a smaller, cheaper brand of the same (for food companies, this is often carried out by using small vendors and distributors). By doing this, they are able to enjoy earnings from both consumers who are willing to purchase the high end product (pay television like Spike), and those who can only afford the dollar store grade stuff (free broadcast television like Ion). So, they almost appear to be competing products, much to the ignorance of American consumers who have no idea that the products are ultimately owned by some larger-than-life corporation.

Now, this discussion could not take place without at some point mentioning the second leading promotion in the game, Strikeforce. San Jose-based Strikeforce airs on Showtime and CBS, stations owned by CBS Broadcasting, Inc. A very brief history, CBS was taken over by Viacom back in 2000, but the two split in 2005. If you've been following along, you're probably seeing that Viacom's attempt to secure two stations broadcasting UFC events was a counter to CBS's MMA stronghold via its Strikeforce broadcasts. Unfortunately for Viacom, their scheme was a failure as the UFC turned to independently-owned Ion Television for a free broadcast deal.

Why the Ion deal proves Dana White & Co's intelligence
Opting for an independently owned broadcast network like Ion over another cable deal was an intelligent move for Zuffa for more reasons than I have time or energy to type on. But in short, I will add that their relationship with Ion will benefit both parties. It will allow Ion to grow and expand with the leading brand of the fastest growing sport and entertainment industry in the world. For Zuffa, working with a smaller media company will give them the leverage and flexibility to shape and mold their 'free broadcast network' identity.

Now that the UFC has taken to good old fashioned rabbit ear tv, I think it's very safe to assume that a new series (other than tough) is on the horizon. There's also this crazy but not far-fetched idea that BloodyElbow cooked up:
"One possible alternative angle is that Ion could easily become the long-rumored "UFC channel" which would be an audacious and ambitious, but risky, move."
As for Spike, I don't know all of the details of their current contract, but I recall that their contract was set to expire in 2011 when the two companies renegotiated back in 2007-2008. If this is the case, I don't see the UFC parting from Spike completely, and if they do they will find other ways to maintain their presence on the cable television schedule. I'll be sure to post more on that situation later.

For now, be informed that the UFC 125 preliminaries will air on Ion Television on Saturday starting at 8:55pm ET/5:55pm PT. Ion can be found on Direct TV channels 305 and 347 (Ion Television West). Ion's network television station can be found on the UHF band and is offered in high definition format. For more information about Ion, visit http://www.ionline.tv/.

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UFC 125 Details:
Ultimate Fighting Championship: "UFC 125: Resolution"
January 1, 2011
MGM Grand Garden Arena,
Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card:
UFC Lightweight Championship Bout
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard

Chris Leben vs. Brian Stann
Brandon Vera vs. Thiago Silva
Nate Diaz vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Clay Guida vs. Takanori Gomi

Preliminary Card (to air Ion TV):
Marcus Davis vs. Jeremy Stephens
Josh Grispi vs. Dustin Poirier
Phil Baroni vs. Brad Tavares

Non-Aired Preliminary Bouts:
Mike Brown vs. Diego Nunes
Daniel Roberts vs. Greg Soto
Jacob Volkmann vs. Antonio McKee

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