The world is less than one month away from the launch of the UFC’s new digital network. At this point, however, fans still have far more questions than answers when it comes to the promotion’s newest way to broadcast fights.

We know that the service is being launched in order to help the UFC’s growth outside of its traditional North American market, and that most of the fight cards that air on the new network will be international events that aren’t set to air in the United States. With the promotion adding another 10 to 15 events to its 2014 schedule, on top of the almost 40 it put together this year, it’s not a surprise that the UFC decided that every single fight card doesn’t need to be televised in the United States. Fight fans have known for a while that the day was soon going to come when watching each and every UFC event would turn into a nearly impossible undertaking, and the promotion is taking a step forward in that direction with its new subscription service.

During an appearance on The MMA Hour earlier this month, UFC CCO Marshall Zelaznik provided fans with a few answers, and so far, the future looks promising for the company’s newest endeavor. While no set price has been announced, Zelaznik stated that the service is currently rumored to cost less than $14.99 a month. Although that number may not exactly thrill fight fans, especially those already dropping at least $50 a month on pay-per-view events, it’s not unreasonable, especially if the content on the new network is up to par.

With the promotion targeting 11 to 13 events for the network in the upcoming year, with additional content to be added to the service throughout the year, the price tag doesn’t seem to be too outrageous.

Asking fans to pay somewhere around $10 a month for fight cards that the UFC doesn’t deem worthy to air on U.S. soil may not seem like the best business strategy, but if the promotion wants to make the service worth the price, it has plenty of ways to make the network a must-have for hardcore MMA fans. The most enticing thing that Zuffa can offer the fans with its new network is its massive library of fights, and Zelaznik was very upfront about the promotion’s intention to eventually offer its entire collection on the network. With not only UFC events, but shows from former MMA organizations like Pride, Strikeforce and WEC all currently owned by Zuffa, thousands of fights will eventually be at the disposal of those who subscribe.

The fight library is going to need to be a major selling point for the UFC as it begins to build the digital network from the ground up. Without a ton of content ready to go when the service kicks off next month, the network is going to be a hard sell. The promotion is admitting that the fight cards on the network aren’t being made for the audience stateside, (for the record, the network will also be available in Australia, Canada and New Zealand) and the lack of quality fighters set for the network’s inaugural show isn’t going to help Zuffa gain many subscribers.

Outside of former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine and Japanese MMA veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri, there is a gigantic lack of significant names on the Fight Night 34 card set for early next month. Sure, there’s UFC mainstays like Max Holloway appearing on the card, but overall the lack of what was once considered UFC-caliber talent is off-putting to those considering spending another chunk of change on their MMA addiction. This isn’t likely always going to be the case—the company’s London show in March is actually relatively stacked for a free/network show—but it’s hard to convince even the most avid MMA fans to spend their hard-earned cash on fighters that they’ve likely never heard of.

For about 90 percent of MMA fans, the decision of whether or not to throw down a monthly payment for this new network is going to come down to two things: The amount of content on the network and the quality of the fights that air live. And, honestly, the network is going to need both to survive.

A solid library from the beginning is going to attract fight fans, but it’s hard to imagine the network gaining many new subscribers after the initial push without giving away some quality fight cards. If most of the cards resemble a Saffiedine vs. Hyun Gyu Lim main event, it’s going to be hard to get fans to stick around without doubling the amount of live fights next year. Having access to these smaller shows provides hardcore fans the opportunity to scout some of the up-and-coming fighters in other countries, but it’s a tough sell for casual MMA fans.

On the flip side, if the cards are modeled after the London event in March, which features established talent like Alexander Gustafsson and local favorite Brad Pickett, the UFC will have a much easier time getting fans to jump onboard.

However, even if the UFC puts quality fights on the new network, it doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t a boatload of extra fights waiting for subscribers. After paying $50 to 60 a month on a pay-per-view, another $10 to $15 for a card that is around the same quality as a typical Fox Sports 2 or Fuel TV event is too much to ask of the average fan. In fact, it’s probably too much to ask even of the most devoted hardcore fans.

That’s a problem, because the hardcore fan is going to likely determine whether or not the new network succeeds. Let’s face it, casual UFC fans aren’t waking up at 6 a.m. to live-stream fights from China on their computers. They don’t care about the debut of Tatsuya Kawajiri next month, and they definitely don’t care about the dozen or so fighters making their UFC debut on the same night. This network is going to be for the people that are already planning their Saturday nights around a 10 p.m. ET pay-per-view start time or rounding up their confused friends for a Friday night card.

Over the last few years, UFC content has been spread out over Spike, Versus, Ion and a handful of Fox-owned networks. Although some of those channels are common, plenty of hardcore fans had to go after their cable provider in order to watch fights on Versus or Fuel TV. Most of the time, adding those channels forced fans to add a couple of bucks to their cable bills as well. It’s not hard to see why hardcore fans would be frustrated with yet another monthly fee to pay for UFC fights. That’s why the network needs to open up with a massive library of fights available, to throw some sort of reward to the fans who have been following the UFC’s programming from channel to channel. It’s also why the quality of fight cards on the network is going to have to drastically improve in the next year. Fans already spend hundreds of dollars in order to watch UFC events each year, and unless Zuffa makes it completely worth it, it’s hard to see them willing to pay even more.

Photo: UFC Logo (Zuffa, LLC)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.