The long-rumored distribution deal between Home Box Office and Ultimate Fighting Championship has been KO’d.
The premium service said it will not air live UFC combat sports events on its network in the near future, ending more than a year of negotiations.
“After lots of discussion it became apparent that the business model doesn’t make sense for either one of us. So we agreed to go our separate ways,” said HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg in a statement. “You never know what the future holds. We have enormous respect and admiration for the executives we dealt with at the UFC. We wish them well.”
HBO has been in talks with UFC about carrying live UFC events on the 28-million subscriber pay service, but sources close to both sides said the discussions had heated up over the past two months. In fact, UFC President Dana White was quoted in the Miami Herald this past August guaranteeing a HBO/UFC deal by the end of 2007, saying that it would “definitely be in place for a winter fight.”
Representatives for the UFC could not be reached for comment at press time.
The HBO/UFC breakdown could bode well for Spike TV, which is hoping to extend its deal with the UFC — which includes the popular reality series The Ultimate Fighter — before it expires sometime next year.
The network’s Sept. 8 airing of the UFC 75 event featuring UFC light-heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson drew 4.7 million viewers, the most watched UFC event ever in North America and the most-watched non-World Wrestling Entertainment show in Spike’s history, according to the network.
Spike officials said the network is “optimistic” it can reach an accord with the combat sports outfit.
Considering how confident White was at one point that the UFC and HBO would be able to close a deal, this has to be viewed as a tremendous setback. A deal with HBO would have been huge for MMA in that it would be another step towards greater mainstream acceptance.
It will be interest to see how White reacts. Something like this could motivate him to do something big with ESPN, which reaches more homes than HBO and would carry the same brand of legitimacy.
It will also be interesting to see where HBO goes from here. Have they completely soured on MMA, or just the UFC? And if they are still open to the idea of televising mixed martial arts will they look to an existing promotion (Strikeforce comes to mind as an ideal partner)?