On Aug. 17, Fox Sports 1 will officially hit the airwaves. The new network will focus on sports 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship will play a major role in the programming on the channel. On the network’s opening day, the UFC rolls into Boston and hosts UFC Fight Night: Sonnen vs. Rua, from which 10 of the 13 total fights on the card will air live and free. The new Fox Sports flagship network will also broadcast pre-fight and post-fight shows, analyzing the action throughout the day.

That’s not all, however. Shows that currently air on Fuel TV such as UFC Tonight and UFC Unleashed, along with pay-per-view preliminary cards and hundreds of hours of footage from the UFC library, are set to fill the network’s calendar as well. On Aug. 28, a second set of live fights is scheduled to take place.

It is clear that the UFC is trying to do what it can to make Fox Sports 1 the unofficial UFC network, but it needs to make sure that it is careful about not overdoing it. When the partnership with Fox originally sprung up, Fuel TV became the de facto UFC network, with UFC programming more or less taking over the entire network. Fuel TV’s reach did not extend to many households across America, and many of those who had the network probably didn’t even spend much time watching it, therefore this change was one that wouldn’t affect many people. If anything, it may have driven more viewers to the network.

Now, with the launch of a new flagship sports network, the question lies in how Fox and the UFC utilize their broadcast deal to maximum effect. It’s all about taking the proper approach and avoiding UFC overload.

The National Football League and Major League Baseball are two of the four major team sports in America, and both have broadcast partnerships with Fox. Because of this, the SportsCenter equivalent of FS1 will likely focus on these sports, the same way that ESPN goes hard in its coverage of its partner, the National Basketball Association. Focusing coverage on these respective leagues is fine, considering that they are household sports and everyone is familiar with them, whereas, unfortunately, MMA still isn’t mainstream in the court of public opinion.

But this is where things can change. Fox has the opportunity and obligation to create a paradigm shift in how the sports world views the UFC and MMA in general. Sure, ESPN aired coverage the day after Chris Weidman took the middleweight title from long-reigning champion Anderson Silva, but its coverage just skimmed the surface and didn’t give the proper weight to what was a milestone event in the sport of mixed martial arts. Fox Sports 1’s SportsCenter equivalent would be able to jump in and analyze this in a better, more in-depth fashion. It would also cast it in the proper light as a major moment in sports, not a trivial bit of sports news. There was a lot of buzz in the sports world about the fight, even coming from those who are not considered fight fans. To have them flip from ESPN to FS1 to see what everyone is talking about is an achievable goal and one where the fledgling network can surpass its more established rival to provide superior coverage while also further developing the UFC’s status among major sports leagues.

Furthermore, when news breaks about an upcoming fight or event announcement, it can land on the news ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen, and it can be brought up by the on-screen anchors, rather than simply being an afterthought, as it usually is on ESPN.

Also up for consideration is the way in which FS1 markets its UFC programming. The use of the UFC as part of the network’s launch lineup lends it the proper gravitas within the sports world. A behemoth of the broadcast industry wouldn’t launch its flagship sports network with a frivolous set of sporting events. It needs to establish itself with a major event, and FS1 is declaring that the UFC holds the proper significance to lead the charge.

However, for those that aren’t already believers in the action that takes place inside the Octagon, a measured strategic approach is needed. Sandwiching a 30-minute show that features two past fights, one from each of the fighters in an upcoming main event, in between a fantasy football show and a college basketball game will capture the eyes of NFL fans too lazy to reach for the remote, but will also be seen by viewers who refuse to miss the tip off of the big game that night. In doing so, FS1 might create appeal within fan bases that may not otherwise be exposed to MMA.

Furthering the brand through cross-promotion could be another technique utilized by FS1. Lightweight fighter Donald Cerrone recently signed with a sports management company run by NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick. As the Sprint Cup Series winds down, the “Cowboy” could appear on a show breaking down the auto racing in order to cross-promote the UFC to the NASCAR crowd while simultaneously coaxing UFC viewers to tune into the race to see his guest appearance. The results could see fans of one sport tune into the other, boosting overall viewership of both.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, what the UFC wants to do is to be able to get more sports fans comfortable with the sport, converting non-fans into casual fans and then into people that will go out and buy the pay-per-views. If the aforementioned coverage takes place on Fox Sports 1, this is a realistic scenario. This won’t be achieved if the game plan is to show three consecutive episodes of old Ultimate Fighter seasons each night.

By no means am I saying that on the day the network debuts that they shouldn’t air coverage for UFC Fight Night: Sonnen vs. Rua and any accompanying programming, but simply shoving the product in the face of the viewers night in and night out isn’t a strategy that will work. The UFC is just as much a partner with Fox as the NFL and MLB are, but projecting an image that only the UFC will be shown on the network needs to be avoided because it could keep more fans away from the channel than it pulls towards it.

With the UFC and Fox Sports 1 about to enter a working relationship, a measured approach needs to be taken under consideration at the end of the day. Considering there will be more football, baseball and basketball fans tuning into the network on a daily basis, intelligently integrating the UFC and its programming into the lineup will do a lot more good than cramming the content down the viewer’s throat.

Photo: Fox Sports 1 Logo (Fox Sports)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.