UFC content will be a significant part of the programming that will be on the new cable channel, Fox Sports 1, which will debut on Aug. 17. The UFC even scheduled a fight card, headlined by Chael Sonnen versus Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, in Boston to appear on FS1's debut.
But as of now, FS1 isn't going to be available to large parts of the nation. According to John Ourand at Sports Business Daily, Fox has not reached a deal with DirecTV, Dish Network or Time Warner Cable to carry FS1.
Ourand notes that Fuel -- which currently carries a significant amount of UFC content that is going to move to FS1 -- will be rebranded Fox Sports 2 and is expected to go live with its new name on Aug. 17, as well.
That could mean that there are systems, Ourand wrote, that have FS2 but not FS1. That would not be good for UFC fans.
Earlier this month, cable systems in the Northeast sent notifications to their subscribers announcing plans to flip Fuel into FS2 by Aug. 17, which is the date when Fox Sports 1 is scheduled to launch.
Several distribution executives have said that Fox has told them to prepare for the change, which would be part of a soft transition around Aug. 17.
This raises the possibility that some distributors may carry FS2 but not FS1 at the beginning. Fox has yet to sign affiliate deals for FS1 with several top distributors, including DirecTV, Dish Network and Time Warner Cable. FS2 is not running into the same distribution problems because Fox does not need to get new affiliate deals to rebrand Fuel because of economics. Fuel costs distributors about 15 cents per subscriber per month, according to data from SNL Kagan. That rate is not expected to change when the channel rebrands to FS2.
UFC president Dana White said via text message that he remains unconcerned and thinks deals will be struck with all major providers by launch date.
"We got Comcast done," White said in a text to Yahoo! Sports, meaning Comcast Cable is set to go with FS1 on the Aug. 17 launch. "That was the one I was worried about, but I think Fuel situation helped there."
In a separate text, he wrote, "I am planning on all of them [DirecTV, Dish and Time Warner] by the 17th."
It's in the UFC's best interests, certainly, for Fox to get as wide of distribution as it can as quickly as it can for FS1 because it has so much content on the network. In addition to the loaded Aug. 17 card, which in addition to Sonnen-Rua also includes Alistair Overeem against Travis Browne, the UFC also has an Aug. 28 show from Indianapolis planned.
Even more significant, though, is the Sept. 4 debut of the reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter." With women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and arch rival Miesha Tate coaching, the show is expected to be of heavy interest to MMA fans. TUF is moving to FS1 from FX.
These things almost always get worked out, but not always without pain. In 2009, DirecTV pulled the plug on Versus (now known as NBC Sports Network) in a contract dispute. Fans were angry they weren't able to get UFC and NHL content when it was off the air.
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