For the second time in a few days, TSN and RDS have announced they have grappled away more long-time Sportsnet and TVA Sports sports rights. First, it was the UEFA Champions & Europa League, and now, Bell Media announced yesterday that they have signed a multi-year deal that brings all UFC programming to TSN and RDS. In what one could say is the start of a possible partnership trend, certain UFC programming will also screen on the little-known Fight Network. All the UFC action including major live events, PPV prelim fights, Fight Night and the Ultimate Fighter series will be shown across the country, giving Canadians more programming than ever before!!!
TSN will begin its UFC coverage on January 3 with Countdown to UFC 182 at 7pm ET on TSN4 and TSN5, followed by the UFC 182 prelim fights from 8pm ET. Additional UFC shows such as UFC Now, UFC Unleashed, UFC Ulimate Insider, and Road to the Octagon will begin screening in early 2015.
The Fight Network, which appears to be available on nearly every cable and satellite provider in Canada, will broadcast Fight Night events from around the world and all prelim fights from pay-per-views held out North America. Fight Network will also show all weigh-ins, press conferences and post-fight coverage. They will also partner with TSN and RDS to produce pre-fight programming before PPV events.
Like the Champions League, it is entirely possible Sportsnet and TVA Sports couldn’t afford to spend the money to renew the UFC rights due to the gazillion-dollar NHL deal. One thing that hamstrung them though was that UFC screens a majority of its live events on a Saturday night, a night in which Sportsnet aims to show as many hockey games as possible and TVA Sports shows one game on each of its channels. SN360 will now be free to show NHL every Saturday night and possibly games on Wednesdays which was another UFC-heavy night.
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.