Thursday, February 28, 2008

EliteXC Moves To Network TV

Obviously, the huge news today is EliteXC signing a multi-year television deal with CBS, the first time MMA will be shown on a major network in the U.S. (the IFL was technically the first on network television with its events on MyNetworkTV.) The deal is reportedly for four live fights a year on Saturday nights, probably in the 9-11PM EST slot, with the first fight set for sometime in April.

The implications of the deal are vast. First, a broad new audience will have the chance to watch MMA, and whether or not they tune in (and keep tuning in) will probably make or break the sport's future on network TV. If the ratings are big for CBS, other networks may hurry to cut their own deals with other promotions, and the sport could go mainstream.

But as Dave Meltzer points out, the highest rated UFC event ever, UFC 75 on September 8th, drew 4.7 million viewers. EliteXC will have to do quite a bit better than that to be considered a network success, a tall order for the young promotion. If it flops, MMA may become the next poker: a sport that grew too fast, too soon and is now relegated to cult status.

Second, EliteXC has positioned itself as the only legitimate rival to the UFC in the near future. The UFC's bizarre insistence on maintaining total production control over their events (what other sport would even think of doing that?) allegedly scuttled their own network TV negotiations, and that stubbornness has now come back to haunt them.

EliteXC pales in comparison to the UFC in most categories (quality of fighters, production values, promotional reach), but this deal may well change all that. EliteXC, a partnership between Gary Shaw and Showtime, clearly had cash to begin with, as evidenced by their purchase of a handful of other promotions, but now they'll have a lot more. The agreement requires CBS to purchase 10% of the company, an immediate injection of cash that, if it is used to sign big name fighters and improve production quality, may completely change the look of EliteXC.

Dana White has long stated his desire for MMA to be synonymous with the UFC, a nightmare scenario for those that value the health and diversity of the sport. While the confusing factionalism of contemporary boxing would be just as bad, fans will benefit from the healthy competition this deal creates.

And hey, it's free MMA on TV. Can't argue with that, right?

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