The UFC’s move to the Fox network has been a success for both parties, but there may be no one involved in the pairing more thrilled with the progress thus far than Fuel TV vice president and general manager George Greenberg.
When news broke of the union between two of the biggest organizations in their respective markets, Fuel TV revealed plans to implement thousands of hours of UFC material, including live events and weigh-ins, into its 2012 programming schedule. Almost immediately, the network saw drastic increases in its viewership, reeling out huge leaps in percentages throughout key demographics.
While the numbers pale in comparison to the ratings drawn on Spike TV when that network and the UFC were partnered, Greenberg is happy with the significant progress.
“We’re 90 days into this,” Greenberg said Tuesday on a media conference call. “If you’re going to start comparing numbers to Spike, which is virtually three times our distribution and had the product for six, seven years … let’s remember, they launched their network on the back of the UFC and that’s exactly why they are where they are today – because of the distribution power they were given by the UFC.
“We expect huge ratings in the future. I don’t know if it’s going to grow at the same rate. But I can tell you this: For years to come, the UFC on Fuel TV is going to be a ratings juggernaut and, percentage wise, I don’t want to guess what it’s going to be next year, but we expect big things in the future.”
Fuel TV certainly is heading up its programming with the UFC, as no other sport or organization has been given anywhere close to the amount of the attention the network has given the leading mixed martial arts promotion. This has allowed a channel focused on sports such as BMX and other not-as-mainstream sports an opportunity to broadcast material from the fastest growing sport.
But the UFC content does more than just bring over mixed martial arts fans, according to Greenberg. The UFC programming also allows for a greater audience to be exposed to other material on Fuel TV, allowing for other sports and series on the channel to garner more attention, which is not something Fuel has ever been able to accomplish, at least to this extent, in its history on cable television.
“When you can get the NFL of combat sports on your network, you say, ‘OK, everybody else can move aside,'” Greenberg said. “For us, the UFC was a huge investment for Fox, and the one thing we can do is we can promote other shows within it. So we look forward to getting shows (for) males 18-49, putting them in there in UFC telecasts, promoting them, and driving viewers from one property to the next.
“It’s a great promotional vehicle. It’s live sports. It’s incredibly intense and exciting. We’re glad to have it.”
Though the network certainly has been thrilled with the results to this point, as Greenberg said, the ratings should continue to grow. He stated explicitly that the live events were of huge importance to this growth, and Saturday’s UFC on Fuel TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva is the next step in that process.
However, the location of this weekend’s event left plenty of questions concerning how the broadcast would be handled. Instead of following the route Spike TV often would take with international events, tape-delaying them in order to air them in prime time spots, Fuel’s upcoming six-fight card will broadcast live on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
The decision certainly leaves fight fans happy, as the tape-delayed experience is hardly an experience at all when compared to that of a live event. But Greenberg says no one should be surprised. He says the network understands the importance of live sporting events and the decision to broadcast live in a less convenient time slot was not a hard decision at all.
“When you air a sporting event, the integrity of the sporting event happens live – 99.9 times out of 100, you want to air it live,” Greenberg said. “To us, the event takes place and it’s really important to keep the integrity (of that event) intact. Sports events are wanted products by everybody. That’s why rights fees keep going up and up and up. At the end of the day, nothing beats a great live sporting event.”
While the event will be live, allowing at least the hardcore fans to take a collective sigh of relief, it also has another importance, as this Saturday the great UFC drought of 2012 finally comes to an end. However, with weeks void of live UFC fights, Saturday’s event is not on the level of a pay-per-view, not featuring any huge draws, instead focusing more on prospects.
Still, in the evening’s main event, light heavyweight slugger Thiago Silva returns from his year-long suspension against fast-rising prospect Alexander Gustafsson, a fighter many would not even consider a prospect after his recent conquests in the Octagon. But though it may not be a high-profile main event, Greenberg, who is quick to point out where Gustafsson could be with a win on Saturday, believes that fight fans don’t need a high-profile fight to justify tuning in for a UFC event, much less a free one.
“Gustafsson’s on a pretty good tear lately. He’s a pretty intense striker,” Greenberg said. “Look, this guy wins this fight, he’s lining himself up, the next fight or two, for perhaps vying for a championship. But, for us, we talk to the UFC fan. Whether you’re a one contender, two contender, three contender, eight contender, the fans know – when you come to watch a live UFC fight, that anything can happen from anybody at any time. And you guys have seen this. In prelims at times, you’re not sure what you’re going to get. All of a sudden you see an incredible roundhouse kick to the head. You go, ‘Where did that come from?'”
And that’s exactly what Greenberg expects on Saturday.