UFC Digital Network – The Effects on the Regional and International Landscape
By Christopher Jester
The oft-rumored UFC subscription service has been verified. UFC Chief Content Officer Marshall Zelaznik explained some of the features of this digital service on MMAFighting’s The MMA Hour. As it pertained to the service, Zelaznik compared the service to digital services powerhouses Netflix and Hulu. Short from saying that he price will be similar to Netflix and Hulu, he said they would limit it around the lower end of the spectrum; somewhere comfortable around $14.99. While the service sounds great and appears to be an awesome extension for fans of the UFC, it is their handling of international events that took the most attention.
It came to no surprise when the UFC announced that they wanted to do more shows in 2014. The question became how this would be possible. With the reveal of the subscription service, we got out answer. The venture into the international market is how the UFC will implement more events in their already busy schedule.
What came from the announcement of the service is that international shows will no longer broadcast on televisions outside of their region. Brazilian shows will broadcast in Brazil, Australian shows will broadcast in Australia. The idea is to generate local buzz in these regions, thus creating local stars on these smaller shows to find success on bigger shows later.
So, while 33 events will air on pay-per-view and Fox, the others will be featured on the international markets in an attempt to bolster a more diverse roster. While these other events will air in their region, fans who want to still watch these cards will have to pay for the subscription service to view them online. These international events will now have a platform based out of the subscription service, while generating the right amount of promotion in those countries.
This sort of move was inevitable as the UFC continued to grow internationally. However, there are pros and cons to this sort of expansion as well. To get the bad out of the way, this means that many fans that will refuse to fork over the cash for this subscription service will miss important match-ups. Additionally, those prospects will not garner the same amount of fanbase as they could if these international shows were broadcasted on television. Although they may gain some increased visibility and popularity in their home country, which is the point of creating regional based shows, their standing will falter among casual fans in other countries.
Although it is not likely this would complicate any divisional rankings, it is worth bringing up. With their own official ranking system, the UFC may find it difficult to demonstrate the merit of a fighter who is breaching the top ten from a win off an regional-only broadcast. Obviously certain fighters like Alexander Gustafson may fight on a Swedish-based card but he will likely find himself on a pay-per-view. Middle-tier international fighters may not become relevant until they debut or are showcased on pay-per-view, which will ultimately limit their exposure to viewers.
But one cannot simply look at the negative. This is expansion is great for developing of the UFC brands in multiple countries. Business is business as usual for the UFC but the greatest benefit is the development of fighters within their own countries. This sort of level of development is something untried for the UFC, but is a good way to keep fighters longer by monitoring and analyzing their success in their own market before allowing them to branch out into the big leagues: worldwide broadcasting (Fox), and pay-per-view cards. The propensity of putting a fighter into the deep waters before they are ready was a common mistake for the UFC in the past. Now the UFC will have time to mature these young fighters through their careers.
In a way, you can imagine these regional shows as the dark matches or amateur leagues of the UFC. Obviously these fighters are not amateur but it allows these prospects to advance at a slower pace without the need of the UFC putting them in a big match before their necessarily prepared. This means more fighters will fill out the UFC’s rosters, but lesser star power will keep them limited to regional shows. Fighters with records like 2 wins and 0 losses can now feature predominantly on a card with others just like themselves as they grow their skills and their stock within their market and the UFC.
It is indeed fun days to be a fan within the UFC. As the largest mixed martial arts organization continues to grow so will the opportunities for fans to witness the mutual growth of the sport. Young prospects looking to join the UFC will have more opportunities to hone their talent and skills in a market geared towards his or her countrymen before branching out into the larger scheme of things. It is a near-perfect way to build bigger stars and the UFC is on their way to creating a grander organization by doing so.
Follow Christopher “sLapDatSuCKa” Jester on Twitter @sLapDatSuCka
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