clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Marshall Zelaznik details new UFC digital network, underscores UFC's expanded role in fighter development

Mark Nolan

They key business feature for the UFC in 2014 (and perhaps beyond) is the plan not simply for more shows, but a push into international markets to both establish a greater presence as well as find local talent to ostensibly promote up the organizational food chain.

To do that and as aforementioned, the UFC is going to be staging nearly 50 events in 2014. Yet, only 33 will air on pay-per-view or various Fox Sports channels. So, what about the rest of them?

Enter: a new digital streaming service that will exclusively air the events and by the sounds of it, a whole lot more.

To help explain what this service is, when it launches, how much it will cost and much more, UFC's Chief Content Officer Marshall Zelaznik joined Ariel Helwani on Monday's MMA Hour.

"One of the things we're trying to do is get hyper focused on all the content that's being distributed and created for not only the US market, but for the international markets," Zelaznik said. "It seemed as we were evolving the way we look at our business and we built these offices up in all these places all around the world that the training wheels can come off and I don't have to manage those offices like I used to."

To take the next step both in terms of organizational presence globally and as vanguards of content delivery in the sports digital space, Zelaznik said the new online network seemed like the optimal way to tackle both challenges.

"[We're] looking at how quickly this whole world of content delivery is changing and making sure that we are instep with what is happening in this space."

So, what are the details? Zelaznik confirmed the service would live stream local events in times catered to local market needs, but also went through the other details as they currently stand:

  • Launch date: 'We're looking towards the end of the year....We are planning to have a very formal announcement in and around the [UFC 168] Anderson Silva fight."
  • Name for service: 'Right now we are working on trying to incorporate this into the umbrella, much like some of the other sports leagues do. So, that will likely be the location where the network ends up sitting, or the service is probably a more appropriate way to define it."
  • Cost of service: "I can tell you the range is on the lower end. I've seen some of the blogs or some of the forums where people are chatting about it and people have sent me links. The universe has really been, at least in our world here in the U.S. -- the Hulus, the Netflixs -- have sort of set the basement on what pricing is. I think there's an expectation. There's numbers as high as $14.99. I can tell we're going to be, at least in the current plan, on the lower end of that spectrum. It will no doubt be a good value proposition.
  • What service won't include: "The service will not include in its initial form, nor is there any current plan, to take our current pay-per-view business and migrate it over to this service." However, "we are looking at offers where there is a role for the pay-per-views to pay. We don't know exactly what those will end up being, but the service -- when we name it and ultimately launch it - will not include a possibility to watch the pay-per-views, but it might side alongside of it."
  • What service will include: "There will, however, be international fight nights that we've been talking about that are getting created for the international markets like the event in Singapore, the event in London. Those will be included in the service. So, the service will include other live components to it with other programming from other events around the world and even events from the U.S.," Zelaznik says. "Then you'll have access to the entire vault and other original content we'd look to produce."
  • What about the library? "There will be an arc to how much content gets up, but eventually, all of the content will live there. Every one of the events that we do on an ongoing basis - depending on their hold backs or rights clearance issues - will ultimately be there." Zelaznik says that includes PRIDE, PRIDE Bushido, Strikeforce, WEC, EliteXC, WEC, WFA "and some smaller libraries. We're going to put everything up there, provided there aren't any rights issues conflicts."
    After live events, will fans be able to immediately watch the show if they missed it? "Yes, we're looking to make sure the technology will allow to what's called 'real time encode' it. So, they'll be up there. You'll be able to come in and watch it live or jump in whenever you jump in and start from the beginning or wherever it is and if the event is over, you'll be able to jump right into whichever point you want."
  • Air times for live events: "They will be live. These events are, in essence, an out of market sports package, if you will. But, in essence, we're going to showing those events live in those local markets so that people in those markets, we can help grow the business there."
  • Availability: The service will only be available in the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand as it launches. Why? Zelaznik says they're markets "which have a lot of similarities, not only in different rights grants that we have." He also notes they're all English speaking and the "markets have a propensity to transact," that is, they're "used to paying for what they want." This service will also soon launch in Europe, but Zuffa is currently working out TV arrangements that are currently in negotiation. Zelaznik says they don't want to move forward until those issues are settled. They could get it as early as 60 to 90 days post-launch.
  • Number of live events: Eleven to 13 events in the inaugural year. There could be months where there are two events, but there could be months where there are none. The aim is for at least one a month.

Zelaznik notes fans can expect a commensurate level of production quality, but there could be the addition of commentators to the current roster of broadcast talent given the high number of shows.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is not simply the digital streaming service or access to the UFC's extensive video library, something fans already can mostly access (albeit in a more cumbersome form). Instead, it's the confirmed pivot from the UFC simply being an organization where the best fight the best to one that also digs very deep into the role of early professional fighter development, a service traditionally performed by B-level or regional shows.

While the UFC already nurtures prospects, the move internationally is a direct attempt to act as a de facto regional organization where fighters could potentially have incredibly limited professional experience before making Octagon debuts.

"What this series allows us to do is to help find the next Conor McGregor or [Alexander[ Gustafsson, in essence," Zelaznik stated. "It gives us the ability to bring in these fighters. When we asked fans and when we did some focus group testing and went after our avid fans, one of the things that rang true, which got Dana really excited: this is going to allow us to bring on fighters we didn't have the space for who are all very competent and could perform in the UFC."

The first event to air on the UFC's new digital service will be UFC Fight Night 34, which takes place at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore on January 4th. The card is headlined by a welterweight tilt between UFC veteran Hyun Gyu Lim and former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine.

Yet, the card also features talent such as Royston Wee, who only has two professional fights on his resume. By comparison, competitors on most versions of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) - including some international varieties - are required to have at least three before they can even audition.

"So, yes, while there may not be fighters you know today, I would expect as [UFC matchmakers] Joe [Silva] and Sean [Shelby] do their work in these markets," Zelaznik continued, "you're going to a part of uncovering the uncovered talent, as it were."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting