The UFC has reached a deal to air live events on HBO, according to statements made by UFC president Dana White on a pre-UFC 70 teleconference.
White said that the UFC will be putting on live events for HBO and that the first UFC event on HBO will air this summer. When asked by a reporter if the HBO deal is “signed, sealed, and delivered,” White said, “Yes.” When asked if the deal should be reported as official, White said, “Yeah. We will be on HBO this summer.” White also spoke of struggling to sign the HBO deal in the past tense, as he said, “We would have never signed a deal if we weren’t comfortable with it.”
White said that the UFC broadcasts on HBO will have an HBO production team and HBO announcers, so UFC announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan will not be doing commentary on the UFC’s HBO events. White said that he doesn’t know who will be on the HBO announcing team for UFC events, but when asked if Jim Lampley would be on the team, White said, “Hell no.”
White inferred that the HBO events will be higher in stature than the Spike TV events but still lower in stature than the pay-per-view events. As an example, White said that you could expect to see the winners from future seasons of The Ultimate Fighter have their first post-TUF fights on HBO after they win the TUF competition, whereas the UFC Fight Night events would be the home for all of the fighters who are on TUF and get UFC contracts even though they didn’t win the TUF competition.
As another example, White said that you can expect to see Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fight on HBO, and he added that Nogueira “will fight one of the top guys right off the bat.” White said that fans can expect to see top-quality fights whether any given UFC event is on HBO, Spike TV, or pay-per-view.
White said that the UFC’s June 16th event in Belfast, Northern Ireland will not be the HBO debut show, as he said that the June 16th show will be “on Spike TV or pay-per-view.” The UFC web site previously said that the June 16th would be on Spike TV in the United States.
The statements made by White on Tuesday would seem to end a period of more than one year wherein the UFC and HBO were close to a deal but had not reached a deal. White has said consistently over the past year that the UFC would be on HBO “very soon,” dating back to an April 2006 radio interview on 1140 KHTK in Sacramento, California.
Acclaimed boxing writer Thomas Hauser wrote in an article on the Seconds Out web site in January 2007 that HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg had “opposed the UFC deal as vigorously as possible” and was doing “everything in his power not to televise mixed martial arts.” In the same article, former HBO Sports president Seth Abraham actually compared MMA to “naked boxing” and said that MMA would tarnish HBO’s boxing heritage
In an unprecedented move, HBO Chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht veto’d HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg and insisted that HBO would air MMA programming at some point, leaving Greenburg only to negotiate the details of such a deal. According to Hauser, this move “represented a marked shift in HBO’s corporate culture… in the past, an HBO chief executive officer would not have ordered sports programming over the objection of the sports department.”
Left only to come to terms on the details, some of the key disagreements between Zuffa and HBO Sports were whose production crew will film the event, whose announcers will commentate on the event, and how those announcers will go about commentating on the event.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer recently summarized the dispute as follows: “HBO wants full control of the product, and to use its crew and its announcers and cover it like a network broadcast team would cover a major sporting event. UFC doesn’t want to give up its control of the product, wants its own crew to film it, and wants to use its own announcers, who are closer to pro wrestling announcers whose role is to build up the product as opposed to providing detached, objective commentary.”
With those issues resolved, there were no remaining obstacles standing in the way of a deal between the UFC and HBO.