Tuesday was a big day for FOX, which formally announced a long-rumored launch of its own sports cable network, FOX Sports 1. Along with it came the confirmation that much of the UFC's programming content would find its home there beginning in mid-August.
There was, however, one UFC television property that went unmentioned in all of the announcements and literature: its signature show, The Ultimate Fighter.
The show will go on, no question. But whether it will end up on FOX Sports 1 or remain on FX, its home for the last two seasons, has yet to be decided. And according to UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, that decision is ultimately in the hands of FOX executives.
"I don't know where it will end up," he told MMA Fighting. "I know we've had a tremendous amount of success on FX this year. I'm sure the guys from FOX Sports 1 in launching a channel would love to have that programming, but ultimately it's up to the FOX family to figure out who wins that grappling match as far as where The Ultimate Fighter is going to end up."
The Ultimate Fighter's ratings for its current season are up 46 percent over its last season on FX, an improvement widely attributed to a move away from Friday nights along with a shift in emphasis to storytelling of contestant's backgrounds over house drama.
TUF usually airs two seasons per year, with the second beginning its TV run in mid-September. But despite most of the UFC's programming moving to FOX Sports 1, it's still possible that FX will retain the franchise. If it does move to the new sports network, it will be available in around 90 million homes, slightly less than the 98 million that carry FX. The tradeoff would be nearly all of their programming under the same roof.
"Being on a sports network is going to be huge for us," Fertitta said. "You get a kind of halo affiliation being there with the other big sports like the NFL, Major League Baseball and NASCAR. We’re really the fourth pillar of that network. Secondly, I think it's going to be important that we have one place and destination that we can call home. Part of the transition is that we went from having one place to call home in Spike over to the FOX family was that we were on multiple networks. At times, it was difficult for our fan base to follow us and figure out where they could actually see the fights, so going forward to this August when the network launches, there will be no question you're going to tune in to FOX Sports 1 on Wednesday nights, get all your UFC information, a lot of live fights, and if anything's going on, you know you're going to go to that channel."
Right now, there is no timetable on the TUF decision, although networks usually make such determinations months in advance in order to properly publicize their programming.