The UFC has made tremendous strides over the past decade moving into mainstream America, but that doesn’t mean that its fight for acceptance is over. As the company continues its push to go global, there is still resistance in several locals.
Asia has been a particularly difficult market to break into, but even some of the areas in which they have made headway are still pushing against the MMA juggernaut as it bulldozes through barriers.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship took the Octagon to Germany for the first time with UFC 99 in Cologne in June 2009. At the time, there was already a television deal in place to air the promotion on Bavarian based network DSF.
Such moves typically start the dominoes falling in new territories for the promotion, but it hasn’t been such an easy road in Germany.
Fans had to show I.D. at UFC 99 to prove they were at least 18 years of age in order to gain access to the event, and then the UFC’s German TV deal was yanked.
“The network that we were on is DSF. DSF broadcasts from within Bavaria, which is one of the states in Germany, where Munich is located. So the TV licensing authority in Bavaria is the one that withdrew the approvals for the UFC to air on television,” explained UFC Managing Director of International Development Marshall Zelaznik.
“We have actually filed a lawsuit against the licensing authority there, the BLM. So we’re in the middle of litigation with the BLM, basically asserting our right that we thought it was improper to remove the UFC from television.”
The UFC and executives at its parent company, Zuffa LLC, are all too familiar with this sort of confrontation. UFC president Dana White has long asserted that mixed martial arts will one day be the biggest sport in the world, and he’s not backing down without a fight.
As Zelaznik explains, the promotion has taken steps ensure its product’s availability to German fans despite the resistance from the BLM.
“We were able to secure one of the leading sports websites (in Germany),” he said. “The group is called SPOX.com, they’re I think the number two or three most trafficked German language sports website, so they have become our sort of official German language partner for (UFC 122).”
The UFC has offered its live content on its own UFC German language site ever since the BLM pulled its license, but now has SPOX, which will also air UFC 122 for free, to help grow its presence in Germany.
Returning to television there, however, is going to take some time.
“There are networks that broadcast from within other states in Germany that have shown interest in the UFC, but aren’t prepared to commit to the UFC until this lawsuit is resolved. So we have options once the litigation is gone,” Zelaznik explained.
“Depending on what happens at which level and who appeals what, the soonest (we could resolve the litigation) would be around six months, but it could be another nine to 12 months.”