In a deal that Lorenzo Fertitta called one of the biggest in the UFC’s history, the UFC last week announced a multiple-tiered deal with Mexican media giant Televisa, which will include the creation of a separate subscription channel in Spanish.
UFC and Televisa are partners in the new channel, which will air nearly every UFC fight live during the course of the year, as well as carry weigh-ins, news shows, and air archival footage of old events from UFC, Pride, WEC and Strikeforce.
The channel is expected to be available in about 20 Latin American countries. The more early emphasis will be on Mexico and Argentina, which, based on web site traffic, are in the top ten countries worldwide when it comes to interest in the promotion.
"Lorenzo said today (Friday), it was one of the three major deals in company history, the FOX deal here, the Globo deal (in Brazil), and now this Televisa deal," said Jamie Pollack, Senior Vice President and General Manager of UFC Latin America. "This is a massive media deal within sports, entertainment, media. We’ve got other leagues, the NFL, Major League Baseball, they can’t break into this Latin American market the way we’re breaking into it."
Javier Balseca Gonzalez, Televisa’s publicity and promotion coordinator told Variety that the channel would launch around September.
The basic battle plan is to use the power of Televisa, easily the most powerful media entity in the market, to promote the UFC stars and fights in Mexico, as well as open up doors for the rest of Latin America, where they have programming connections.
They would also promote shows with Countdown specials airing on various Televisa channels. This would include regular coverage on the Televisa Deportes Network, which aired the Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva fight live on May 25, and Telehits, Mexico’s version of MTV, which is popular throughout Latin America.
One of the biggest aspects of the deal is that four UFC shows per year would be airing on Canal 5. The station, which concentrates on youth-oriented programming is one of the network’s big four channels available in virtually every television household in Mexico.
The shows will air the top two fights on selected major events, a deal similar to what UFC has with Globo in Brazil. In Brazil, the shows usually feature shows where a Brazilian star like Anderson Silva, Junior Dos Santos or Jose Aldo is headlining. In Mexico, one would expect Velasquez fights to air live, as well as other major events featuring the biggest names.
On those shows, the UFC Channel would air the entire show up until the last two fights.
Velasquez, whose father was born in Mexico, has given that country a natural hero as the current heavyweight champion.
"Cain’s been a tremendous help. The people there understand the attributes and respect the discipline of fighting in the UFC. There’s a real understanding of that in Mexico. In some ways, the media has actually been covering us on a more consistent basis - the Mexican mainstream media and newspapers."
For exposure of the product, the Canal 5 deal gives the company far more than it has ever had previously.
Similarly, The Golden Channel, affiliated with Televisa, will be carrying similar programming throughout Central and South America.
The question becomes whether the product is strong enough to go to a pay channel format. Such a format will greatly service its existing fan base, giving them access to everything they would want. But there won’t be the weekly free television big events, like Mexico’s leading sport, soccer.
There is an argument that a pay-TV format would lead to more consistent revenues. Pay-per-view of single major events sees numbers range greatly, based on the stars and the match-ups. For people used to watching a station regularly, getting them to continue all year as viewers is easier than bringing them back each month and always having to sell a new pay-per-view show that the fan base may or may not buy.
Televisa has experience with the Pay-TV market, with more than 40 entertainment channels, but this will be its first venture into a pay sports channel.
"Televisa is 100 percent committed to this," said Pollack. "They’re making a big investment on their own. Lorenzo is very bullish on this channel. This is a long-term thing, a strategic business decision."
He also noted this is a test market of sorts. If this is successful, the idea of expanding a 24-hour channel to other parts of the world would be a natural.
"This is definitely the start of a worldwide subscription network for the UFC," said Pollack. "We believe it’s a business worth investing into now. We could get on television and get a license fee. That would be no risk. This shows the level of commitment that we have in Latin America, with Televisa, and the commitment they have with us.
"You’ve got the strength of the brand in international markets, and how that can be translated. It can be a very turnkey business once you’ve established a UFC network. This will be a good indicator. The success of Brazil and the success we’re going to have in Latin America is going to help drive the rest of the business outside the U.S. It’s a benchmark."
Due to existing television deals, such a move isn’t likely soon for the U.S., Canada or Brazil. In addition, UFC’s biggest revenue stream remains its pay-per-view business in North America, which is what keeps everything else afloat.
"It’s a big deal," said Pollack. "A deal with Brazil with TV Globo and this, you want to be with the best in these markets. The Latin American media market has a lot of concentration. They (Televisa) own radio stations, newspapers and online portals. This is not just about television. There’s a whole different platform you get."
Besides airing all live events from the start of the card, including what are the Facebook prelim fights in the U.S., all the shoulder programming around the 35 live events per year, news shows, and the various Ultimate Fighter shows.
An affiliation with Televisa will also open up doors as far as presenting live events, although UFC has traditionally insisted on complete control of its live presentation.
The exposure should also lead to fighters coming from all over Latin America to the UFC, where they could be flagship stars in their home country, like Velasquez is in Mexico, Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy were in the U.K., and George Sotiropolous was at first in Australia.
UFC has recruited promising Mexican fighters and sent them to train with Greg Jackson, most notably Erik "Goyito" Perez, a bantamweight from Monterrey.
They are also looking at an Ultimate Fighter for Latin America, with fighters coming from the entire region.
"There are already gyms all over Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru and Argentina," said Pollack.
Pollack noted a first major live show is likely for next year in Mexico City.
A state-of-the-art building, Arena Ciudad, which holds 22,000 fans, opened last year in Mexico City.
Mexico has had a long cultural history with both boxing and pro wrestling, which is why Dana White had always earmarked the country as a potential major market dating back to his beginnings with the company in 2001.
In 1993, boxer Julio Cesar Chavez fought Greg Haugen at outdoor Estadio Azteca which drew 132,274 fans. Even as recently as five years ago, there were a number of pro wrestling events in the city every night, and the major Friday night show consistently did between 10,000 and 18,000 fans.
"The intent is to go down with a show in Mexico next year, and eventually intend to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile," said Pollack.
The company is working on similar television deals in places like Nicaragua, Peru and Colombia, with help from Televisa. The idea is similar in those markets, namely, the airing four major events each year on free television to build interest in the network.
The price of the network has not been determined. Pollack said it will vary by the country.