UFC president Dana White has always been a bold figure, and it appears he has a television strategy to match. Already finding success on pay per view as well as cable outlets such as Spike and Versus, he says he is not done growing the sport's television footprint domestically or globally. His most notable goal - finally taking his sport into broadcast television for the first time, a move he says his organization is finally prepared for in the coming year, as well as launching his own channel. UFC's current deal with Spike expires next year and White is already said to be shopping that as well.
Speaking backstage at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. following the October 23 UFC 121 event, a typically candid White outlined his television plans to B&C editor-in-chief Ben Grossman. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
B&C: What's next for your television strategy?
Dana White: A lot of people don't realize we are in a half a billion homes around the world. You know all the things we've been through in the United States, but this sport travels well. Cricket will never be big here and the NFL will never be big around the world. But we are all human beings and fighting is in our DNA. We get it and we like it. So we are working on a couple moves now and should be in a billion homes around the world in the next couple months.
B&C: And what about here in the US? You have said you'd only do a broadcast deal when the time was right? Are you there yet? Do you expect to be on broadcast TV for the first time in 2011?
Yes, we will. We are working on some things right now. I just can't talk about it at all because we are right in the middle of it.
B&C: I have heard you have had some back and forth with News Corp., and Fox has a hole on Saturday late nights and that would seem like a perfect fit for UFC.
I don't disagree with that. We're in the middle of this stuff, we can't talk about it, but it's all common sense.
B&C: How about Comcast-NBC. You have a relationship with Versus already, so what does this deal mean for you?
That's not a bad deal for us, if that whole thing comes together.
B&C: You mean as a way into getting on NBC?
It could be our way into NBC. Everything you're saying makes sense. Fox on Saturday nights, Comcast merging with NBC, I am sorry I can't get into it.
B&C: What about launching your own UFC network? That has to be in your plans?
Sports Business Journal just came out with a survey asking big names in the industry which sport could start its own network and 4 out of 5 said us. They are right. I agree. That will happen within the next couple years.
B&C: How is your relationship with ESPN? [Editor's note - the interview was conducted just after White was interviewed on an ESPN set assembled at the event.]
You are starting to see now ESPN is starting to cover us more. I think this is one of those things ESPN will probably kick themselves in 10 years saying, "We could have fucking had that."
B&C: Have you spoken with HBO lately? Have you chatted with Ross Greenburg?
First time I ever walked into Ross Greenburg's office, I was in awe. I was one of these boxing guys, I knew everyone around the boxing rings and I was honored to be there. Until I talked to him for five minutes. And all I kept hearing about was how many Emmys he has got and all this shit. And I was like, "You know we are kicking your ass in pay per view, right?" Ross Greenburg, and I will give him credit, nobody has ever done boxing better than he did. HBO is the kings of boxing. But it never changed. If you watch an HBO boxing event from 1975, what's different from now? HD. Even the announcers are the same.
[Editor's note: in response to White's comments, an HBO spokesperson relayed the following statement: "We admire Dana White's work in building the UFC brand. Since Ross Greenburg became President of HBO Sports, the top two grossing PPV events of all-time have taken place on his watch (including De La Hoya vs. Mayweather $137 million in PPV revenue) and HBO Sports launched in 2007 the ground-breaking "24/7" reality franchise that has won more Sports Emmys (12) than any other sports series on television the past three years."]