Showdown Joe: Making Sense Of UFC Programming

When it comes to the leader in MMA, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has long believed the old media adage: content is king. But listen to various social media guru’s and those that have made millions as well, the aforementioned metaphor is evolving to “context is king”.

I remember a time when many of us fought hard to get the UFC on television. Airing one bout was hard enough, let alone an event. Slowly but surely, with The Ultimate Fighter, shows and events began to make their way to that rectangle in your living room.

Shortly thereafter, while I was working with various grass roots promotions, I was able to secure a magazine show on a mainstream sports network in Canada, mainly devoted to covering the big show. It was about 90% UFC, 10% everything else, until we were asked to change the name of the show from ‘MMA Connected’ to ‘UFC Connected’, followed by the final name ‘UFC Central’.

At that point on, it was all UFC content. The only show of it’s kind at that time, until the UFC struck a deal with FOX. From there, ‘UFC Tonight’ eventually made it’s debut, while the promotion continued to develop it’s own online channel and service ‘UFC Fight Pass’.

One thing you cannot do on ‘UFC Fight Pass’ is simply scroll through. No chance. Why? Because there is so much content on there, scrolling could take you hours. Watching would take you months. It is a hardcore fight fan’s dream.

Fight Pass was something I had heard of months before it was launched, courtesy of conversations I had back in the day with Dana White and then C.E.O. Lorenzo Fertitta. Their vision was a bold one, with many saying ‘good luck with that’. I for one believed in it, but was afraid of what it meant for guys like me, for the sport of MMA and technology in general.

They way we as a society consume our entertainment is changing. TV stations are scrambling for advertiser’s. Corporations with marketing budgets are approaching a fork in the road.

To the left, is the same thing they have been doing in the past: spend millions of dollars on commercials and air space on television, where viewership / ratings continue to drop. To the right, the new digital age, where advertising is far cheaper (today), but the numbers are not there (yet).

While this landscape is changing, so is what the UFC is prepping for next year.

From a television perspective, where will they end up? Will they stay on FOX, go to ESPN, migrate to another network or split content between two or three?

One of their products, ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ continues to churn out season after season of content that many appear to be tired of seeing. From my perspective, unless there is a valid reason to follow the trials and tribulations of the fighters on the show, I’m not overly interested. If there’s a title or title shot for the winner at the end of the show, I’m interested. If not, then the UFC is just adding fighter’s to their roster … which is also what Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender series is doing.

And if that’s the case, and this is a weekly show, we will see one new fighter added to the UFC roster every week. By this time next year, that’s 52 new fighters added to a roster that they are apparently trying to trim as we speak.

And what does the Contender Series mean for those grass roots promotions that sit underneath Bellator? These were the final stepping stones for fighters to prove themselves before they made it to the big show. I’m sure that fighters will still be graduating to the big show, but I get the sense many of them will be on a “short notice, can you fight in two weeks” kind of deals.

While it may not be the actual case, there is a sense that even though a fighter has paid their dues on the regional scene, you still have to compete one more time on Dana’s Contender Series or TUF, before you can get to the big show.

I get a sense it makes it harder for fighters to earn more money on the regional scene while promoters juggle with their thin budgets to try and figure out how much to pay their talent, now that another layer has been added with the Tuesday Night Contender Series.

And does the new series give us a glimpse that ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ is just about done? And that the UFC is prepping for a different life after their FOX deal comes to an end?

I mean the purpose TUF was to grant the winner a six figure contract with the UFC right? Well, you can get the same thing on Dana’s Tuesday night spectacle and not spend six weeks in a house with 15 other alpha (fe)males. And for the UFC, it’s way cheaper to produce.

Things are changing right in front of our eyes folks. Pay close attention. The UFC continues to pave the way and I have a sense, before we know it, things may look totally different very, very soon.

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