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UFC an Integral Partner in Fox Sports 1

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COMMENTARY | ESPN generated nearly $11 billion in revenue in 2012, the major source of which came from the ESPN family of networks having a fee-per-subscriber of $5.05. With solid infrastructure in the world of sports and the world of television, a transition into the sports network business seems like a natural fit for the Fox Sports Media Group (FSMG).

Fox Sports 1, previously SPEED, launches this Saturday (Aug. 17), and one of its anchors will be the UFC Fight Night Series. FS1 will be airing a 6 1/2-hour block (pre-fight show; two-hour preliminary fights; and three-hour main-card) of UFC programming in prime time on its first day of broadcast.

The partnership with Fox began in 2011 with a 10-year $100 million per-year programming agreement. Originally, UFC content was airing across many Fox networks, including Fox, FX, FUEL and SPEED. The creation of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2, formerly FUEL, provides what should be a long-term home for the UFC. Fox will continue to run UFC events, with the preliminary fights airing on FS1.

The UFC and former partner Spike were able to grow together thanks to favorable lead-ins from the latter, and quality programming from the former. FX never seemed like the ideal fit that the man-centric Spike was, and Ultimate Fighter ratings sagged. FS1 and its 24/7 sports approach should serve the UFC much better.

The new season of The Ultimate Fighter, which begins Sept. 4, features UFC bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey (7-0) coaching against her rival Miesha Tate (13-4). Additional programs like UFC Ultimate Insider and UFC Unleashed will also air on the FS1. FS2 will air live fight cards, the first one coming Oct. 26, headlined by middleweights Michael Bisping (24-5) and Mark Munoz (13-3). FS2 will also air the UFC weigh-ins live, and other UFC original content.

The UFC is one of many important pieces to FS1's success, including NASCAR, MLB, PGA golf, NCAA football and its flagship show, "Fox Sports Live," a nightly program geared to rival "SportsCenter. "

UFC's importance lies not only in the prestige of the brand and Nielsen ratings, but also in the sheer volume of the programming provided for FS1 and FS2, something extremely valuable to a 24-hour sports network with a finite amount of engaging sports content. FS1 plans to be in 90 million homes (it took a major step in resolving its distribution deals on Thursday night), which will be around 10 million fewer homes than ESPN and ESPN2.

Sporting events have become increasingly more lucrative in television due to their live nature in an era where circumventing paid advertisers has become commonplace for consumers. Research firm SNL Kegan projects FS1 will earn about 80 cents per subscriber a month in 2014, up substantially from the 31 cents previously generated by SPEED.

UFC's Fight Night 26 fight card is slightly below the quality of what the company frequently offers on pay-per-view, but commensurate to the recent events on Fox. And for being on free television, there's no denying this is a must-see event for hardcore MMA fans.

The main-card kicks off at 8 p.m. (EST), and there is almost guaranteed to be fireworks thanks to five-time Fight of the Night winner Joe Lauzon (22-8) clashing with Michael Johnson (12-8) in a lightweight affair. The headline fight is a light-heavyweight contest between one of the sport's most colorful characters, Chael Sonnen (27-13-1) and always-exciting, former light-heavyweight champ Mauricio Rua (21-7).

Other fights of interest include a battle of massive heavyweights, Alistair Overeem (36-12) vs. Travis Browne (14-1), and a bantamweight tilt between 135-pound stalwart Urijah Faber (28-6) and Iuri Alcantara (28-4).

FSMG throws its first punch in the battle of supremacy of the sports networks on Saturday night. The UFC is a worthy ally in this fight.

Joe Napoli has been a follower of MMA since the Dark Ages, and enjoys watching pro-wrestling when he's looking for something a little lighter to watch.

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