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Report: NBC interested in broadcasting MMA

The website MediaDailyNews is reporting that NBC is the latest major network to express an interest in televising mixed martial arts in light of the current writers strike in Hollywood that has halted production of most major scripted television shows.

With the writer’s strike expected to become protracted, major networks are exploring various programming alternatives. The networks will start running out of fresh shows early next year, at which time it is anticipated that viewers will start being presented with increased offerings of reality television and sports telecasts.

One of the top sports options being explored by major networks in mixed martial arts and reports leaked out last week that CBS and the UFC were engaged in talks that could lead to a prime time telecast on Feb. 2.

Neither CBS or the UFC have confirmed the reports.

While CBS has yet to sign a formal agreement with the UFC and has had talks with other fight promotions, the UFC is considered the leading candidate to sign with CBS. One of the other promotions that has had talks with CBS is EliteXC, a promotion in which CBS is partially invested in.

Despite the talks with EliteXC, it would surprise me if a deal with the UFC was not reached. I’ve been told that CBS is entertaining talks with other promotions to decrease the UFC’s bargaining leverage. It is also believed they want to have a backup plan in the event that CBS and the UFC can’t come to mutually agreeable terms.

Using other promotions as leverage when trying to strike a deal with an MMA promotion is nothing new to the industry. The UFC had been engaged in prolonged talks with Showtime last year. Once the prospect of a deal with HBO came to light, Zuffa took the UFC deal off the table and tried to pitch the WEC to Showtime. I’ve been told that Showtime senior vice president Ken Hershman didn’t appreciate Zuffa’s negotiation tactic and green lighted a deal with EliteXC. If EliteXC hadn’t been an option, the WEC could possibly be on Showtime instead of Versus.

In regards to NBC and a potential partner, the MediaDailyNews article speculates that K-1, the IFL, and M-1 Global as potential options. learned late last week that NBC has indeed spoken to the IFL and M-1 Global. Talks with both promotions were not categorized as being serious in nature.

The IFL has a current deal with MyNetworkTV but a deal for 2008 has not been executed. The team-based promotion also has not secured a deal for a live broadcast of the finals for their World Grand Prix on Dec. 29, although we were informed last week that talks toward a deal for a two-hour live broadcast on MNTV were expected to intensify this week.

It will be interesting to see how serious NBC is about M-1 Global. I’ve heard that M-1 has already approached ESPN and HBO about a television deal but to my knowledge, talks have yet to progress to a serious level. The fact that Fedor Emelianenko is not a household name with the U.S. audience has been an initial hurdle. In order to facilitate a deal, M-1 Global may need to sign some fighters that have strong name recongition with North American audiences. It remains to be seen if such fighters are available.
It also wouldn’t be surprising if the UFC ends up talking to NBC. Just as CBS wants to have leverage during talks, I’m sure the UFC would like to have leverage as well.

Zach Arnold from also brings up that the WWE could be a possibility as an MMA option for NBC. The WWE already has existing deals to televise wrestling on NBC and the USA Network, which are both properties of NBC Universal. And when Vince McMahon created the XFL, NBC got involved as a television partner.

No one can deny that the WWE has a strong relationship with NBC Universal but I tend to doubt the possibility of NBC using them for mixed martial arts. The Chris Benoit tragedy and negative press regarding a multitude of steroid suspensions over the past few months could be major drawbacks. The idea of also televising a legitimate sport that is being produced by a company that is primarily known for a scripted product would also have to be a concern. Granted, NBC decided to broadcast the XFL but that enterprise can’t exactly be considered a success (unless you’re a fan of Rod Smart).

In addition to CBS and NBC, I’ve also heard that FOX and ABC have explored televising MMA from a cursory perspective. Regarding FOX, it also owns MNTV. The IFL not only broadcasts on MNTV but also Fox Sports Net.

It will be interesting to see if the UFC becomes tempted to resurrect PRIDE so that they have an additional brand that they can market. The biggest question is whether there is enough available talent to stock a new version of PRIDE. As such, trying to market the WEC to major networks might be a more feasible idea.

2008 is already shaping up as an interesting year for MMA.

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