Updated: August 18, 2011 10:59PM
The Ultimate Fighting Championship took a giant step toward mainstream acceptance Thursday with its new major broadcast deal with Fox Sports.
The companies announced a seven-year deal believed to be worth $100 million at a news conference. It will be the first time the UFC will be broadcast on network TV in prime time.
The deal includes four prime-time events on Fox Sports and 32 live fights a year on FX — including 28 Friday-night events following “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show and four to six separate “Fight Night” events. In addition, “The Ultimate Fighter” will change formats and air live on Friday nights on FX followed by a live fight card.
Lorenzo Fertitta, the CEO of Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company, talked to the Sun-Times on Thursday to discuss the deal and what fans can expect.
Q: How big is this day for the UFC?
A: It’s as big as we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of wins. We’ve grown at a meteoric rate and now are one of the popular mainstream sports in the world. But being in the Fox family, being on Fox Sports, home of the Super Bowl and the World Series, and to be treated and promoted on the same level that they are, it’s an amazing day.
Q: You’ve always said you weren’t in a hurry and you wanted to wait for the right deal. What made this the right deal?
A: We have had opportunities in the past to do a broadcast TV deal. But it always felt like those opportunities were one-off opportunities. This is a situation where we’re really being embraced by the whole power and weight of the whole Fox media group. We’re going to have live fights on Fox in prime time. Our successful reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” will move to FX, which is a fully distributed cable network. We’re also going to be on Fuel TV with a lot of shoulder programming, helping to build the distribution and ratings on that network. And then, in addition to that, we’re going to be broadcasting on all of Fox’s regional sports networks. We’re fully integrated into the Fox sports family.
Q: How important was production control in the deal?
A: It was very important. We have a certain look and feel and a certain way we produce our product. We’re not in a situation where we’d ever hand it over to anybody. Fox has seen our product, and they said, ‘We think you do it best. We love what you do.’
Q: What is the best thing for the fans in the deal?
A: For fans, they’re going to get more fights, which allows us to showcase more of the younger fighters, build more stars and let people know who the contenders are coming up. We’re not going to increase the number of pay-per-views, so the additional programming and additional fights they’re going to get are free.
Q: How different will ‘‘TUF’’ be next spring?
A: It’s going to look different. It’s going to feel different, but it will have the same DNA that made “The Ultimate Fighter” successful. There’s going to be more fan interaction. Fans will have a say as far as what fighters will fight each other. You’ll be able to text and have influence. It will be a combination between the coaches and the fans picking the fights. You really won’t know who’s fighting until you tune in the next week.
Q: With 32 shows on the Fox networks, plus pay-per-views and Strikeforce events, is there ever a point of oversaturation?
A: If they’re great fights and great product, you can’t have enough of it. But I think people are getting a little confused with that 32 number of fights on Fox — 28 of those are counted as fights on “The Ultimate Fighter.” So it’s really not that many more big, live shows.
Q: Finally, when are you coming back to Chicago?
A: We want to come back as soon as we can. We want to go to the United Center. It’s just a matter of finding a date that’s open. That building has been so busy with the NBA and hockey and all the concerts. But it’s on a priority list, I’ll tell you that.
Q: With the NBA lockout, might it open up opportunities?
A: That might accelerate our return to Chicago, for sure.