For the past eight years, Sportsnet has been the home of Ultimate Fighting Championship in Canada. When Rogers acquired The Score, the renamed Sportsnet 360 became the landing place for all UFC live programming such as pay-per-view pre-fights, UFC Fight Night, The Ultimate Fighter and the only Canadian MMA studio program being made, UFC Central. If recent events and speculation are any indication, UFC may be looking for a new broadcaster in Canada.
Sportsnet’s current contract runs out at the end of this year and thus far, no new deal has been signed. When the current contract was signed, UFC was considerably more popular than it is now, with general interest and ratings waning in North American as UFC purchased their competition, diluted their product with more and more live events and finding it difficult to replace big household names that have left the organisation.
Four years ago, Rogers also hadn’t just spent $5.2-billion on 12 years of NHL rights. One of the affects of this deal — one of many more to come, no doubt — on the Sportsnet budget was evident at the beginning of this month when, without warning, Sportsnet’s UFC insider and host “Showdown” Joe Ferraro announced via Facebook that UFC Central has been cancelled after more than five years on the air. He states that the removal of UFC Central was a business decision made by the network and one that he fully supports. Ferraro continues to write for sportsnet.ca and host UFC Central Radio on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
A different take on the Sportsnet/UFC situation comes from In The Cage and theorizes that UFC switched September’s pay-per-view event UFC 178 from Toronto to Las Vegas as a negotiation tactic against Sportsnet. UFC President Dana White stated “Vegas just wanted it more”, which apparently involved the MGM Grand forcing out previously booked act King of Leon. UFC has also pulled out of a planned live event in Montreal in December.
So, what are the odds UFC and Sportsnet sign a new deal? Rogers just spent a shit-ton of money on hockey and may not want to pay the asking price for a product that has been gradually going down in the ratings for the past few years. A large majority of UFC fight events occur on Saturday nights, a night that now features hockey on every Sportsnet channel (bar whatever one is currently showing the MLB postseason). With the recent addition of three feeds, TSN could certainly be in the market to get extra programming, even though they seem to have shown little interest in UFC/MMA in the past. They could certainly use some mid-week programming such as The Ultimate Fighter and possibly a studio show to prevent the endless canned programming that has featured strongly, particularly this week. Personally, I vote for slim.