I recently expressed my thoughts on the UFC’s television production quality during my TUF 5 recap and when I was on Sporting News Radio on Sunday. Based on some of the reaction, I wanted to expound on my thoughts and listed specific areas where I think the UFC can improve.
By and large, the production hasn’t changed all that much over the years. The graphics used have been tweaked a bit but still are very similar to the way they’ve been the past few years. If you watch a DVD from a card four years ago, it doesn’t look that much different in comparison to what you saw last Saturday.
It made sense to pinch pennies during the lean times, but the UFC is making more money and has more viewers. There’s also greater attention being paid from the mainstream media so a broadcast looking its best should be a top priority. The fact that the WEC looks better on TV just goes to show you that there are minor tweaks Zuffa can make in order to improve how the UFC comes across on TV.
1. Better lighting. From the “live” cut-ins during a program that’s before a live UFC event on Spike to the opening comments, the dark background that we have to see whenever Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan on camera just makes the production look cheap. I feel like they’re at a nightclub and not at a sports event. Use the cage as the backdrop and get more lights for the overhang that used above the cage. Look at how “bright” the WEC appears on TV and how dull the UFC lighting looks. There’s a huge difference. I’m assuming the same production people for the WEC and UFC telecasts are being used, so why is the difference so noticeable?
2. Change the color of the mat. I’m not a big fan of the gray. Yes, I realize I sound like an interior decorator but I’m being serious. With all the sponsor logos on the mat it really makes the UFC look like a regional promotion. If you’re going to have all the sponsors on there, do a better job of making the mat look more professional. As of now, it looks like what it is, a bunch of decals stuck to the mat in the days leading up to the fight. The decals have become such an issue that I remember a fighter at UFC 72 or UFC Fight Night 10 complaining that the surface was too slippery and he tried to remain on the center logo for traction. The blue that the WEC uses works for me. If they don’t want to use blue, then pick something else that looks better on TV while also making the logos on the mat appearing more uniform to each other. I know a company isn’t going to change their logo, but make them all appear smaller. I see that mat and it reminds me of all the sponsor billboards that you see as the home run fence at a minor league baseball stadium.
3. Add a sideline reporter. As you know, I believe that post-fight interviews almost always suck. A post-fight interview is tough to do considering what your interview subject just finished doing, but I still believe there’s room for improvement. Joe Rogan has enough to worry about so why not spring to bring in a third full-time member on the broadcast team who just focuses on post-fight interviews, backstage interviews, and injury updates. Yes, injury updates! If a guy gets laid out like Jordan Radev or Sean Salmon, it’s time to stop covering it up. Providing an update on the web site the next day isn’t good enough. The mainstream media and casual fans aren’t so ignorant that they buy into UFC’s out of sight/out of mind approach when it comes to serious head injuries. If a middle linebacker gets run over by a 250 lbs. fullback during an NFL telecast, does CBS, NBC, or FOX just ignore it? No, they provide constant updates. The UFC wants to be treated like a mainstream sport (and rightfully so) but it needs to act even more like a maintstream sport. I’d also start doing pre-fight interviews from the dressing rooms and the locker room hallways. No MMA promotion that I know of is doing this but you see it on other sports. When athletes arrive for a game, you often see the top names appearing on camera for a quick interview. In the NFL, coaches are interviewed as they go to the locker room before halftime and when they come back for the second half. Breaking news is also covered backstage. I know not every fighter is going to want to talk but the UFC handles the production of its own product so they are in a better position to make demands of its athletes than any other sport out there. Especially since there is no fighter’s union. B.J. Penn probably isn’t going to talk before his fight but someone like Jens Pulver probably will. As him on camera about the 145 lbs. division and or whether he expects a title shot if he can beat Penn. Ask Manny Gamburyan if he’s nervous at all and or why Karo Parisyan won’t be in his corner. For UFC 73, I’d really like to see someone get in Sean Sherk’s face and ask him if he’s nervous about defending his title for the first time after such a long layoff. Ask Heath Herring why he thinks he can beat Nogueira after losing multiple times to him in Pride.
Yes, it’s extra work and money to do this type of stuff but it would be well worth it because viewers deserve better than just hearing from fighters during interviews taped in front of a black tablecloth two days before a fight at Zuffa headquarters.
Having a full-time reporter on telecasts would also be great for injury updates after fights and if they need additional interviews in the event they need to fill time instead of Joe Rogan interviewing Shannon Lee in what’s nothing more than a program notice for Spike TV. Spike TV is justified in wanting to promote its other programming on UFC telecasts, but use live reads by Goldberg or commercials to do it. I hate when ESPN has “guests” on during the second half of MNF game to promote Disney-related crap and it’s just as annoying when Spike TV and the UFC do it.
4. Recruit bigger sponsors. I think it was during a recent NBC Sports interview where Dana White said he didn’t need Coke or big corporate sponsors. But he does need them and I think we all know that the UFC needs them to. Does he need them to survive? No, the UFC is doing a good job without them. I mean, does the UFC really need ESPN, SI, or HBO? Not really, so long as they have no interest in growing the company or the sport. Bigger sponsors would help the product come across more professional on TV. We wouldn’t have to see logos all over the mat like a NASCAR racecar or the awkward promotional spots that appear during telecasts. Ads and a simple read through would suffice for the big companies. They wouldn’t be as distracting as the smaller companies and they’d be paying more money. How can Dana not want them? You know he does and the UFC should go out and pull a Marc Ratner-esque move. Go to a Fortune 500 company and bring in their top ad exec, someone who has established relationships with the major companies and their ad agencies that can bring them into the fold.
5. Less pre-tape voiceovers. The UFC shows too much pre-taped coverage of its events. The sound levels suck and you can tell when Mike Goldberg is reading something live as opposed to taped. If you’re not going to fix the sound levels and make transitions sound more seamless, then just have Goldberg read more things live. It’s tough for an announcer to constantly improvise during a live telecast and if that’s the case, then make sure he has plenty of copy to read so that when he gets instructions from the producer on his IFB he can just look down at a piece of paper and read.
Another taped issue I have are the prelim bouts. I like what EliteXC/Strikeforce did this past Friday. Because of their live Internet broadcast, they can’t really have their swing fights before the main event. Both Josh Thomson vs. Nick Gonzalez and Paul Daley vs. Duane Ludwig were scheduled for after Shamrock vs. Baroni. Thomson vs. Gonzalez got bumped up while Ludwig vs. Daley still aired after the main event. I’d rather see the swing bouts live then know I am watching something that happened 2-3 hours before. If there aren’t enough time to show them, then just have the fights take place after the main event solely for the live audience. Yes, I realize not a lot of people would stick around to see those bouts but how many times is the arena packaged when those bouts take place before the televised card begins?
6. Get rid out the “Gladitator Intro” and customize the intro for each event. The Gladiator intro is a tough call because there is so much nostalgia that comes with it. However, it is too static and canned. They do a minimal amount of customization with the fighters talking about each other in black and white cutaways but the UFC can do better. I think the intros should be modeled after what the NFL, NBA, or MLB does before a big game. They really try and focus on the storylines and get you hyped for the telecast. Having a guy respond to a question from off-camera isn’t enough. Have Goldberg or a professional voice over guy do a narration and really get into storylines. For instance, for Ortiz vs. Evans it will just be them talking smack. Instead of that, try to communicate to the viewer how much Tito needs a win here considering he has two fights left on his contract. For Evans, really explore what this will mean to his career if he’s able to beat Ortiz. If you saw the EliteXC/Strikeforce show this past Friday, I think the intro they used should be the type of format the UFC goes with.
7. No more waterfall background. Do I really need to elaborate? It’s lame. It’s something you do when you’re a company with a tight budget that’s trying to look big. The UFC is past that stage.
8. Better fighter intros. No, you don’t need to do what Pride used to do, but putting some more money into how fighters are introduced to the crowd would be a huge upgrade. If you go to regional amateur MMA shows you’ll see that the intros aren’t all that different than what you see on a UFC telecast. Hell, some of them even spring for a small stage, some smoke, and some lights.
I’m not trying to bury UFC. I’m a huge fan of MMA and just want them to do well. They are already doing great but I think the sky is the limit. They have the best fighter roster in the world and I think it’s in their best interest to have the best platform in the world to present them.