Fox Sports/FS1/FS2 has been the home to UFC dating back to 2011 when the two sides came to an agreement. The deal for exclusive rights to UFC fights, pay per view undercards and original programming such as The Ultimate Fighter expires next year. Already there’s reportedly been suitors such as ESPN, NBC and Turner.
But there’s one network that has emerged and could throw a monkey wrench into Fox’s plans to keep UFC. Showtime President Stephen Espinoza spoke with reporter Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour and they discussed the future of the UFC on television. Espinoza told Helwani that Showtime will at least kick the tires on whether to decide on bidding for the next media rights contract.
“It would be silly not to,” Espinoza said. “We are not gonna support the organization on our own shoulders. Not [like] the FOX deal.”
As it currently stands, UFC places its best fights on pay per view, then the tier below that on Fox and another tier of fights on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass. Espinoza said if his network were to do a UFC deal, it would want to ensure that Showtime gets its share of attractive cards.
And this leads to the distribution of the fights. There’s Showtime and its sister network is CBS. That would be an outlet for the bouts that are currently aired on Fox. There’s CBS Sports Network that could be the home for lower tier fights although it’s not in as many homes as FS1.
Espinoza says as long as fans know where the fights are ahead of time and there’s no confusion, he feels that the deal could work.
However, Showtime and UFC have partnered in the past most recently on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight. Espinoza and UFC president Dana White clashed over that promotion and they also clashed when Showtime aired Strikeforce, a relationship that ended rather poorly.
But Espinoza says that should not prevent Showtime and UFC from being partners again:
“Dana and I have disagreed on some things, but my relationships over there are strong,” Espinoza said. “I like the guys. Virtually, almost all the team that was there in Strikeforce is still over there and I like dealing with them. I like them as people, I like them as individuals and I like them as business people. It’s not to say I don’t like Dana. He and I have had disagreements, which is fine. The NFL and I have disagreements sometimes. It happens.”
So Showtime’s Espinoza is keeping the door open for a potential UFC deal. He says he’s willing to talk and we’ll see if Dana White will be eager to do the TV rights negotiation tango with Showtime.