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Fight Week! - The UFC Has a Network (but is anyone watching?) Stuck
Posted on August 7, 2012 at 05:08 PM.

So I moved into a new apartment last week and its great for two reasons. One, I moved in with my fiancť (had to make that #1 just in case she reads this). Two, my new apartment complex offers Verizon as a cable provider. This is big news for a MMA fan like me because Verizon carries Fuel TV (and AXS TV formerly HDNet) while Comcast (and other cable providers) does not. So you all know what I did this weekend while unpackingÖ. I watched Fuel TV damn near non-stop.

Watching Fuel TV actually made me understand a little the reasons why the UFC agreed to a seven-year deal with Fox almost a year ago. From UFC Reloaded to the Ultimate Fighter: Brazil to UFC Tonight, there is almost constant UFC content on the network. Fuel TV Ďs schedule features UFC content perhaps 70-80% of the time. It is the closest the UFC has ever had to an actual dedicated channel. While there were rumors that Comcast offered the UFC an opportunity to buy G4 and make it a UFC only channel, Iíve heard that then price was too high and that Zuffa was not interested in going into the network owning business just yet.

Fuel TVís ratings have nearly tripled since the UFC deal and it has seen unprecedented growth in the last year. Everyone in this deal seems happy except for UFC fans. The problem is Fuel TV is only available 36 million homes. The only people who get Fuel TV are Direct TV (owned by Fox parent company, News Corp.), Dish Network and Verizon subscribers. Most major cable companies donít carry Fuel TV and have no plans to add it. I tried for almost 8 months to get Comcast to add Fuel TV in my area to no avail. That means a significant number of people missed last weekís prelims for the Fox UFC card. I do understand Foxís position. They want to use sports, specifically the UFC, to force cable providers to carry Fuel TV (similar to what the NFL did with the NFL Network). The UFC doesnít care because Fox is paying them almost 1 billion dollars over the next seven years not to care.

Still, UFC fans are forced to either miss important events like prelims and great UFC content like UFC Ultimate Insider or watch the content through downloads and internet streams illegally. The UFCís response has been ďSwitch to Direct TV or a carrier that offers Fuel TVĒ. The problem is itís not that simple for most people. Some fans may live in an area that doesnít offer Fuel TV or live in an apartment/condo that isnít facing the direction you need to get satellite. The UFC canít afford to take a position like this because itís still a growing sport. It isnít the NFL. The NFL can strong-arm cable and satellite companies to carry the NFL network at an exorbitant subscriber fee because fans will demand to see Thursday and Saturday Night Football. The UFC is still a growing sport. It doesnít have a fan base as rabid as NFL fans so it canít rely on it to pressure cable companies. It risks alienating fans by placing content like prelims on a network that few cable companies carry. It also runs the risk of forcing devoted fans to seek illegal means to watch this content. This coming from an organization that has been actively trying to prevent people from pirating and/or streaming its content.

Iíll give you an example: I have a friend of mine who is a big UFC fan. He regularly purchases PPV and watches most UFC events on network television. He isnít tech savvy so he had no idea about Internet streams. A few weeks ago, a friend of his was fighting on the UFC on FX undercard that was only shown on Fuel TV. The problem is his cable company doesnít carry Fuel TV so he had no way to watch his friend fight. So what does he do? He asks around and discovers that many UFC fans are using streams to watch prelims. He also discovered that many are watching actual PPV cards on these streams and that video quality is actually good. Now this is a guy who actually paid for horrible cards like Mir v. Cro Cop and Evans v. Silva and heís now discovered that there is another way to watch UFC events for free. Whatís funny is that he wasnít looking for a way to watch fights for free. He was looking for a way to watch prelims that were on free television and discovered a way to watch most UFC content for free.

Itís a bizarre case of supply and demand. The demand for UFC content is high but not high enough for most people to make changes to their cable provider or demand that their cable provider carry Fuel TV. The UFC is limiting the supply by only offering the content on a channel that most people donít have. Itís a disappointing choice by a company thatís trying to grow and its beginning to anger many hardcore UFC fans. Iím just happy that Iím finally one of the few that has access to this channel.

Iíll be back later this week to discuss UFC 150. If you have a comment about the blog, post below or tweet me at @aholbert32
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