One of the key figures behind the FOX Sports deal with the UFC has now left the network.
David Hill, the man who pioneered several formats and on-air innovations for the sports TV giant, is set to leave his position as chairman and CEO of the network in a shake-up at News Corporation.
Whether this means anything for the UFC is unclear, but Hill was a major player in signing the deal with the Fertitta brothers and Dana White in August 2011 to bring UFC programming to America’s number one sports network.
Hill, who has ran FOX Sports since 1999, has been elevated to Senior Executive Vice President at News Corp. Replacing him at the helm is Peter Rice, who will hopefully want to make a resounding success of the network’s new commodity, especially since so much money was spent on acquiring the organization at a reported $70 to $90m a year for seven years.
If he goes the other way and focuses on the network’s already established sports programs, then MMA could get lost in the shuffle. However, there are some minor speculative indications that the UFC may benefit from Rice’s promotion.
In the past, Rice has served as Chairman of Entertainment for Fox Networks Group (FNG). He has now been elevated to Chairman and CEO of FNG, where he will oversee all programming and operations for the group, which includes Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox Sports Media Group, FX, Fox International Channels and the National Geographic Channels.
Rice - seen as a favourite of News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch, with whom he is pictured above - is earmarked for bigger and greater things down the line. If he manages to pull in significant numbers and advertisers for the UFC, it will help elevate his position.
As president of the studio Fox Searchlight, he had huge success with the film The Wrestler, a small sign that things may bode well for the UFC in the future when one considers the theme, setting, and story of that movie. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Rice knew it had marketability and pushed it forward.
Fox Sports co-presidents Randy Freer and Eric Shanks, who previously reported to Hill, will now report to Rice, another sign that the UFC will be allowed to flourish at FOX. Freer and Shanks have been very vocal about the importance of growing the UFC audience in recent times.
In March of this year, Shanks joined UFC co-owner and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta at the 2012 World Congress of Sports where he emphasized the need to let the sport grow on the network. Shanks is not only looking at building an audience, but a vast list of big sponsors.
Dr. Pepper has signed on, along with apparel firm RYU (Respect Your Universe) and telecoms company MetroPCS. At the expo, Shanks said: “It’s still early. I think you’ll see additional blue chip advertising acceptance. There’s no more efficient place to buy men 18 to 49 and definitely 18 to 34 than a live UFC fight on FOX.
“Obviously there still needs to be some acceptance of top sponsors.”
The big fight for the UFC will be if Freer and Shanks have to sell the UFC product to their new boss, Rice. Hill recognized the importance of adding MMA to the network, but whether Rice is a fan remains to be seen.
Already the organization suffered a setback with FOX when the network made the decision to revert to the taped format for future seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, rather than the live series, which debuted on FX this year.
In addition to the UFC audience, immediate priorities for Shanks and Freer are the new college football package that begins in September, a new pact with the Pac-12 and negotiations with Major League Baseball (the current deal ends at the end of the 2013 season) and NASCAR (whose deal halts after the 2014 season).
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