NBC’s purchase of Premier League rights will affect your viewing habits even if you care about nothing but MMA and don’t even know what a “Premier League” is.
Fox has never hesitated to spend money on sports. The network vaulted into respectability when it landed NFL rights nearly 20 years ago. They let the NHL slip away after a few years, but they have aggressively bought rights to everything else in sight.
In 2011, Fox made two more big moves. The deal with the UFC took them in a new direction. The rights to men’s and women’s World Cups from 2015 to 2022 were a perfect fit for the soccer-happy company in the same corporate umbrella as Britain’s Sky Sports.
And Fox started revving up its cable affiliates. Fuel, formerly an obscure action-sports network, got a steady stream of UFC programming. Fox Soccer, formerly the esoteric Fox Sports World, built itself up as the channel of choice for international soccer, adding the World Cup rights to its audacious swipe of the Champions League a couple of years ago. The question mark was Speed, the motorsports channel that had lost Formula One rights to NBC but still had plenty of NASCAR programming.
Now Fox has another question mark. Fox Soccer’s programming is essentially Premier League, more Premier League, and Champions League. Without the Premier League, can Fox justify keeping an all-soccer network along with its all-motorsports network and an MMA/action sports network?
If I were running Fox, I’d combine Speed and Fuel into a motorsports/action sports channel, then rebrand Fox Soccer as Fox Sports, which would still be the source for Champions League and other soccer but would also be the home for any UFC action aside from the occasional show on Fox (the full-fledged Fox, the one with The Simpsons and so forth).
That would solve a recurring complaint about UFC fans — network confusion. One week, it’s a UFC pay-per-view with prelims on FX. Then it’s UFC on FX, with prelims on Fuel. Then UFC on Fuel. (And Spike thinks MMA fans still think everything is airing on Spike, and they won’t notice when it becomes Bellator instead of UFC reruns next year.)
But with Fox’s history of aggressive bidding, perhaps they keep Fuel and Speed as is, then buy more properties for Fox Soccer or Fox Sports or whatever they want to call it. Maybe they’ll actually show some of the rugby they currently hold over for Fox Soccer Plus.
Meanwhile, NBC has become a soccer and international sports fan’s dream — Olympics, Premier League, MLS, cycling, Formula One, etc. They also have the sporadically available Universal Sports.
Oh — and the World Series of Fighting, debuting right now.
Exciting times for the sports we love at Sports Myriad, even if we’re wearing out the “Guide” function on our remotes just trying to keep up with it all.