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The Ultimate Fighter T.V. show is officially a success, but will the IFL spoil the party?

How do you know when a T.V. show is a success? Ratings . . sure. But how else? Well, how about when four television networks announce that they are launching new shows in your genre.

That is what just happened the the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter show (which is also known as “TUF”) on Spike. BET, MTV2, Fox Sports and Oxygen have all announced that they are launching cage fighting/martial arts shows. If Oxygen (the newtwork for women) is launching a women’s fight show, how can you argue whether TUF is successful?

So, congratulations to the UFC for reaching this new milestone – it’s T.V. show is about to get knocked off.

The launch of the new shows inevitably raises the question of how they will affect TUF and the UFC. As it stands now, I think that TUF is in danger of a burn out. The format is aging, and the talent pool of young fighters is still relatively thin. I suspect that is why TUF is switching to a cast of veteran fighters looking for a title shot for its fourth season. After the fourth season? Your guess is as good as mine, but my bet is that the ratings will have peaked.

Nevertheless, I view the launch of the other series as a net positive for the UFC. Three of them (obviously exempting the IFL on Fox Sports) do not seem quite as hardcore as TUF – although BET’s twist is sooooo secret that the network will not talk about it yet. If any of these shows succeed, they are more likely to draw interest from non-MMA fans. Once those non-MMA fans get exposed to fighting, it is a pretty sure bet that some of them will tune in to the UFC for pay per view events.

The thorn in the UFC’s side will be the IFL. The UFC is obviously concerned about the IFL (as evidenced by the lawsuit it filed that basically tried to shut down the new promotion). The reason is that if the IFL’s team concept takes off, it has a very realistic chance of competing head-to-head against the UFC.

The danger a successful IFC presents to the UFC is two-fold. First, the most immediate concern is that it will drive up fighter salaries. The IFL pays fighters a salary with benefits, plus an additional fee for each fight. If the IFL starts attracting enough fighters, that could lead to the end of the $3000 purse for appearing in a multi-million dollar UFC pay-per view.

Second, the IFL could reduce the value of the UFC brand. Right now, the name “UFC” and the term “Ultimate Fighting” are synonymous with MMA for most people in America. The power of the UFC’s position as the first major MMA brand in America is not to be underestimated. Nevertheless, the IFL’s team concept is just different enough that it could catch on and make serous inroads. The more successful the IFL becomes, the less the UFC will be synonymous with MMA and the more it will be seen as just another brand name for a promotion.

If the IFL presents this kind of potential danger to the UFC’s salary structure and brand, it is natural to wonder why the launch of its show is a net-positive for the UFC. The answer is that if the IFL is successful it will help make the sport of MMA grow. Barring disastrous management, the UFC’s smaller percentage of a bigger sport should actually be worth more than its current dominance (in the U.S.) over a smaller sport.

(hat tip

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