by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
In a strange development, the 30-minute countdown special for the upcoming fight between BJ Penn and Jens Pulver will actually air on Versus Network tonight (June 22nd), despite the fact that the show is specifically designed to promote a Saturday night broadcast that will be airing on Spike TV, not Versus.
The 30-minute special, entitled “Bad Blood: Penn vs. Pulver,” premiered on Monday night, June 18th at 11:30 PM on Spike TV. Barring a last-second schedule change or the NHL Draft running past its allotted timeslot (7:00 PM to 10:00 PM), the Penn-Pulver preview special will air on Versus tonight at 11:00 PM Eastern Time, less than 24 hours before the fight between Penn and Pulver begins on Spike TV. Versus does not have a staggered feed for different time zones, so an 11:00 PM Eastern start time is 10:00 PM for the Central time zone, 9:00 PM for the Mountain time zone, and 8:00 PM for the Pacific time zone.
Zuffa’s contract with Spike TV specifically states that Spike TV is the exclusive basic cable home of UFC programming. While the contract, which expires in mid-2008, does not preclude the UFC from signing a deal with a premium cable network such as HBO or a broadcast network such as CBS, it does prevent the UFC from signing a deal with Versus, ESPN, or any other basic cable network for the duration of the contract. So, in order for the Penn-Pulver special to be cleared to air on Versus, Spike TV would have had to specifically approve it.
When asked about the unusual nature of this arrangement, a Spike TV spokesperson told MMAWeekly, “It is unusual, but a great way to promote our finale to a potentially new audience. [The special] is also available on SpikeTV.com and iFilm.”
With the generally low ratings of Versus, it does not seem as though Zuffa has much to gain from airing the special on Versus, unless one takes into consideration the fact that there happens to be a pay-per-view event airing at the same time that will be co-promoted by Zuffa competitors EliteXC and Strikeforce.
Zuffa has a well-established history of aggressively counter-programming on Spike TV with extended UFC marathons whenever a competitor runs a major televised event. While one could argue that it’s strictly a series of coincidences, the UFC has happened to schedule marathons of UFC programming on Spike TV to air head-to-head with the WFA pay-per-view in July 2006, the Pride USA pay-per-view in October 2006, the first EliteXC event in February 2007, the second EliteXC event earlier this month, and the K-1 Dynamite pay-per-view earlier this month.
Now that Zuffa owns the WEC and has WEC programming on Versus Network in addition to having UFC programming on Spike TV, the UFC now has two different cable networks that it could theoretically use if it wanted to counter-program against a competing MMA show. Versus stands to benefit from this arrangement because the Penn-Pulver preview special will likely out-draw the show that Versus was originally planning to air in the timeslot.
So, in addition to UFC programming airing on Spike TV tonight, the Zuffa-owned WEC will be airing a Friday encore of WEC WrekCage at 10:00 PM on Versus, and that will be followed by the Penn vs. Pulver preview special at 11:00 PM on Versus. Both shows will be going head-to-head with the EliteXC/Strikeforce pay-per-view event, which also starts at 10:00 PM.
There’s nothing unusual about a replay of UFC Fight Night 10 airing on Spike TV tonight, as the UFC has aired UFN replays on Friday nights for several weeks. However, tonight’s airing of WEC WrekCage is somewhat unusual, as it is the only Friday night airing of WEC WrekCage on the schedule for the next six weeks; and tonight’s airing of the Penn-Pulver preview special is highly unusual, as it will mark the first time ever that a preview special for a Spike TV event will be airing in its entirety on a competing cable network.