By Zach Arnold | December 18, 2017
The financial backers of UFC have found themselves in a precarious position for getting a new TV deal, thanks to the proposed dissolving of many of Rupert Murdoch’s sports assets and an internal meltdown with ESPN management.
Many of the Fox sports properties (not FS1, however) are being sold to ESPN to boost their streaming platform in 2018. Rupert Murdoch is cashing out. He didn’t see a long-term future in sports programming on pay television. The old man is getting out while the getting is good.
One of the incredible rumors swirling around the Fox/ESPN deal is that Rupert’s son, James Murdoch, would end up with a gig at Disney or ESPN. James, like Lachlan, isn’t exactly in the Fox News management mold. Such a proposal looked preposterous on paper until Monday’s bombshell announcement of ESPN President John Skipper resigning. The publicly stated reason for Skipper’s resignation was due to substance abuse issues. However, ESPN found themselves caught up in a nasty sexual harassment scandal over the weekend because of a Boston Globe report detailing allegations against personalities John Buccigross and Matthew Berry. ESPN released some of the conversations in question to the allegations but it was reportedly an issue of selective editing. Now the question is when the other shoe drops in Bristol.
ESPN management has been melting down for years despite Bob Iger’s best assurances. Iger just gave Skipper a multi-year extension and now Skipper quits?
Making things even more bizarre, ESPN just demoted Teddy Atlas from their boxing telecasts and banned him from live fight commentary. He’s now stuck doing post-fight Don Cherry-wannabe shtick with Stephen A. Smith. Mark Kriegel, poached by ESPN from Fox Sports/Al Haymon, is a total dud on the Top Rank telecasts with Tim Bradley. The reported reason for Teddy’s demotion involved, you guessed it, complaints about Teddy ripping into athletic commissions and officials.
You can rip Teddy Atlas for many things. His behavior is wildly erratic. However, if you’re going to rip Teddy Atlas for ripping into combat sports corruption, rip Teddy for not being specific or effective enough in his criticism of obvious problems. Removing Teddy Atlas and censoring his voice makes him a martyr for no obviously good reason.
To throw a further monkey wrench into UFC business with Fox, the company just drew a lousy TV rating for the Robbie Lawler/Rafael Dos Anjos fight that got next to no publicity on network television.
All of the turmoil at ESPN & Fox Sports makes Amazon look more attractive as a future UFC broadcasting partner. Turner Sports is lurking but Amazon is Best of Breed on digital technology and can monetize UFC in ways no other business partner can. The television lifelines are starting to get yanked away from UFC and thinking out of the box is required for UFC’s financial backers to make a return on their investment.