LAS VEGAS — The UFC’s recent announcement that three preliminary bouts from Saturday’s UFC 125 event would air on ION Television puzzled many fans.
Despite being available in nearly every household in America, ION is a network with a low reputation in the TV industry. Why would the UFC choose to partner with such a network? Did the deal foreshadow the promotion possibly jumping ship when their broadcast agreement with Spike TV comes to a conclusion in 2011?
Not so, said UFC President Dana White, who indicated that the ION deal only came about after Spike turned down the opportunity to broadcast the fights.
“They can’t take them,” White said. “We have a deal for X amount of prelim fights with them, and there are always gaps. It’s never been where every prelim fight would be shown on Spike. It never was.”
White began searching for a new broadcast partner once Spike turned down the offer. The UFC‘s deal with Spike prevents them from airing fights on a competing cable station, but ION’s status as a true network channel enabled them to negotiate. White wanted to please UFC fans who enjoy watching the preliminary bouts, and reached out to ION.
“I get these fans chirping at me on Twitter and everywhere else saying ‘Last time we couldn’t see the prelims,” White explained. “I’ve got fans going crazy, chirping and bitching at me, so we went out and cut a deal.”
White also said that media criticism of the new deal isn’t warranted.
“I go out and make this deal, and then the fans are asking me what an Ion is. ‘They don’t have HD,” White said. “Too f—ing bad. I got it done. They’re on free TV. They’re available in over 100 million homes. I got you the prelims. You can use a set of rabbit ears and get Ion. Get out a pair of the old rabbit ears, and you’ll pick it up. Everybody gets it.”
White said that the companies haven’t explored any broadcast options beyond the initial airing, but he isn’t closing the door on any future opportunities. He also indicated that the actual broadcast could end up being a headache, with three fights scheduled to take place on the 60 minute broadcast. The company typically only airs two fights due to time constrains, but White said he’s taking a shot on making it work.
“My production guys are going to blow a fuse. If all three of those fights go the distance, it won’t work. We’re over the time,” he said. “But we’re going to go for it. I like to try new things, and we’ll see how it works out. I’ll either look like a hero or a zero on Saturday night.”