Spike TV and the Ultimate Fighting Championship will remain partners in the television ring for several more years.
After exploring other potential cable-distribution deals with such networks as HBO, the UFC mixed martial-arts franchise reached a three-year extension of its current contract with the male-targeted network. The deal gives Spike TV exclusive rights to UFC’s popular Ultimate Fighter reality series and other live match content through 2011.
The deal, which sources close to both parties say cost Spike more than $100 million, also gives 12 live fight cards to the 96 million-subscriber network, as well as a new, as-yet-defined weekly series of live bouts, according to both parties. Spike also acquires a limited amount of digital rights through the deal, although it was unclear exactly what those rights entail.
The deal is a major pin for Spike, given that UFC content ranks among the network’s highest-rated shows. The sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality series, which houses up-and-coming UFC fighters under one roof as they battle each other to win a contract with the company, is averaging a network-high 1.5 million viewers.
This year, seven live UFC fights on Spike TV have averaged more young men in the coveted 18-34 demographic (869,000) on cable than the more established “major” sports of basketball, baseball, football, hockey and NASCAR auto racing, according to Spike.
Spike’s Sept. 8 telecast of the UFC 75 fight card drew 4.7 million viewers, the most-watched UFC event ever in North America and the biggest television audience ever for a mixed-martial-arts event.
“We have the premiere [mixed-martial-arts] property … the UFC is to mixed martial arts as the [National Football League] is to pro football,” said Kevin Kay, president of Spike TV. “You don’t have to worry about where you put it; everyone who’s a fan is going to come to see the premiere product.”
The deal comes three weeks HBO and the UFC officially broke off talks after a year-long courtship. HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg said at the time that “the business model doesn’t make sense for either one of us.”
Dana White, the president of Zuffa LLC, which owns the UFC, would only say that the UFC was looking for companies “that are going to be good partners in the venture.” He added that the UFC still has a ton of upside, which it will explore with Spike.
“Given the plans that we have, I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface,” White said. “We deliver a lot to Spike and Spike delivers a lot to us. … We truly do have a very good partnership.”