Dana White was the biggest winner Thursday when he fulfilled a long-time dream by signing a deal with Fox to put live UFC events on network television. Fox reportedly is paying the UFC an annual license fee of approximately $100 million for the right to air four live fights per year as well as to put a slew of programming on its cable channels, FX, Fuel and Fox Sports Deportes.
Fox will benefit by attracting the highly desirable 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, which the UFC rules and advertisers crave. And fans will benefit by the increase of exposure for the sport.
No one, though, will benefit more than those who have turned the sport into what it is: its fighters.
"Fox is a bigger stage than Spike, a bigger stage than Versus, a bigger stage than any outlet the UFC has," said former UFC fighter Frank Trigg, a broadcaster who once hosted an MMA magazine show on Fox's regional sports cable channels.
"Fox is the No. 1 network in the United States and this is a huge deal for the fights to be live in prime time. This is mainstream coverage and it's going to reach an infinitely larger audience than they've ever reached. It's what is going to propel them over the top and that is going to make the fighters major stars."
The UFC will rake in nearly $750 million over the seven-year lifetime of the exclusive deal it signed with Fox, which should lead to an increase in fighter pay. But the visibility the fighters will receive on Fox will lead to far more lucrative endorsement contracts, as well as open other business opportunities for them.
Fox has been known for the great job it does cross-promoting its programming during sports broadcasts, and it would be no shock to see UFC fighters appearing on popular Fox shows such as American Idol.
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"This is huge for everybody in the sport and I think it's going to create a lot of opportunities for, maybe not all fighters, but for a lot of fighters, it's going to open a lot of different opportunities," said Mike Roberts, the COO of MMA Inc., which manages UFC fighters such as Chael Sonnen and Urijah Faber. "The endorsement opportunities and the sponsorship money will go up for most of the fighters. I hope [salaries] do [increase] in the UFC, but I'm not sure they will, at least not right away.
"Right away, it's not going to be a huge difference, but long-term, it's going to be huge. It's going to happen quickly, but it's not going to be instantaneous, but as these fighters get out there and get promoted and fight on Fox, they're going to become household names very quickly."
White has always scoffed at the notion that the UFC has hit the mainstream. Very few newspapers in the U.S. report regularly on the UFC or run the results of its shows in the agate section. UFC news is generally not included on the local news. FoxSports.com doesn't have a full-time MMA writer on staff.
That will change over time as the events are broadcast and as the network lends its credibility to the sport. This is the same network that broadcasts the Super Bowl and the World Series paying just about three-quarters of a billion dollars to broadcast cage fighting.
"This isn't the end, because we still have a lot of work to do," White said. "Millions of people have never seen the UFC. That's hard for guys like you and me to believe, because we exist in this tiny bubble, but not only is the UFC not mainstream yet, it's not even close. This is an opportunity for us to take it to that next level.
"This is another platform and a way we can let people know that these are the greatest athletes in the world and that this is the greatest sport in the world. I always say that once you see your first live fight, you're hooked, but I think just getting this out to as many people as we're going to be able to reach as a result of this deal can't be overstated."
It's not MMA's first foray onto network television – Elite XC had a deal with CBS in 2008 and Strikeforce bought that contract when Elite XC went out – but Trigg said they don't compare.
The UFC on Fox, Trigg said, is the major leagues of MMA on the largest network in the country.
"Everything is better in the UFC than those other leagues, the production value, the fighters, everything," Trigg said. "If you look at the Top 10 rankings, 85 percent of all of the top fighters are fighting in the UFC.
"It's like in football. You can put the Arena [Football] League on CBS or the European league but it's still minor league football. It doesn't register because it's not the highest level. But the UFC is the highest level and you're putting that on the No. 1 network. If I were a UFC guy starting my career now, I'd be a very, very happy guy."
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