Imagine a strange world where ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC, and CBS provided no substantive NFL news on their respective websites, while simultaneously broadcasting NFL games on a weekly basis. Well, UFC fans do not need to imagine this alternate universe; it is now a reality that the UFC’s television partner FOX no longer provides digital written content.
While the UFC is not the only sports league that is impacted by FOX’s shift toward video content, the effect on UFC coverage may be the most notable casualty of the philosophical change.
FOX’s new strategy is clear cut; they have replaced all written content with videos featuring various television personalities giving their opinion, intermingled with in-studio interviews with athletes.
There is nothing wrong with focusing on video content, especially if it turns out to be an economically viable endeavor. However, if history is any indication, FOX does not have the infrastructure or propensity to provide legitimate UFC news.
Focusing exclusively on personality-driven content eliminates the final sliver of FOX presenting its UFC coverage as a news source.
In the first week of the transition, the FoxSports.com main UFC page features clips from “The Ultimate Fighter” along with clips from “UFC Tonight.” The UFC on Fox Twitter page follows a similar pattern. Essentially, Fox Sports is repurposing FS1 content on their digital platforms. This is undoubtedly a frugal strategy, but it relies on FS1 providing a healthy amount of UFC content.
Unfortunately, this means that Fox Sports will lean heavily on UFC content provided by their cast of outspoken and underinformed opinion makers. It is entirely feasible that the likes of Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe, Jason Whitlock, and Colin Cowherd will be the primary UFC news providers for Fox Sport’s online content.
Unequivocally, these bloviators will provide content that will go viral, but the substance will leave much to be desired. In the past, UFC commentary by this cast of characters has at best been ignorant and at worst misleading. Say what you want about the ridiculous things that a Bayless or Whitlock will say regarding the NBA and NFL, but at least these men have an intimate knowledge of the mainstream sports that they cover. This leaves a major gap in the space for actual UFC news.
Previously, such a gap was filled by longtime MMA writer Damon Martin. Sadly, Martin was one of the nearly 50 writers and editors that were let go by Fox Sports because of this transition. While some may have taken issue with certain editorial decisions of FoxSports.com’s UFC coverage, no one could argue with Martin’s quality and timely UFC content.
With Martin at the helm, casual UFC observers could rely on FOX’s digital properties to remain informed on the day-to-day news items of the promotion. Now these digital properties are subject to whims of a cable television network that specializes in infotainment.
It is not illogical to assume that Conor McGregor news is more sharable than Stipe Miocic related content. However, any fight-related news concerning either one of these UFC champions should be covered by the UFC’s television partner. Will the boisterous voices on FS1 provide commentary regarding the UFC’s lower profile fighters?
Furthermore, the new Fox Sports model seemingly puts the network at a significant competitive disadvantage. FS1’s primary television competitor ESPN cranks out regular UFC and MMA content mostly at the hands reporter Brett Okamoto. Okamoto, who was thankfully spared in a recent round of ESPN layoffs, provides both written and video on ESPN.com, while also being featured on ESPN’s television platforms.
Fox Sports vision of personality-driven video content makes their UFC coverage look amateurish in comparison to ESPN’s MMA content. Not to mention the contrast between Fox Sports and MMA dedicated outlets.
Fox Sports may very well be reacting to a changing and uncertain digital marketplace, but their relevance in the MMA news space may be as diminished as ever.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: Did Bellator 180 waste time? How did major media outlets cover Bellator in NYC?