Friday, February 23, 2007

Fox Sports Net puts bet on team-based fighting

Fight night is taking on a different meaning on TV. The fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is moving in on boxing's former TV turf.

The latest example: Fox Sports Net will premiere a weekly show Friday night devoted to the new International Fight League. The one-hour show will air on FSN's 21 owned or affiliated regional sports networks in 82 million U.S. homes.

Spike TV has a ratings bonanza with its reality series The Ultimate Fighter, featuring a winner-take-all competition. But the IFL will be the first team-based MMA league. So FSN's coverage will focus on team-based fight cards between squads from 10 U.S. cities, ranging from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to Tucson, Portland, Ore., and the Quad Cities, as well as two teams from Tokyo and Toronto.

"It's good counter-programming to ball and stick sports. It seems to be appealing to a crowd that heretofore might have been more boxing-type fans," FSN President Bob Thompson says.

The team concept may also tap into the way many Americans prefer to follow sports, he adds. "We can work with the IFL locally, with our regional sports networks, to promote events," Thompson says. FSN will cover local IFL teams the way it covers local MLB, NBA or NHL teams, he says.

FSN's TV ratings typically increased about 30% when it featured programming from the Ultimate Fighting Championship or Pride, another MMA league out of Japan, spokesman Lou D'Ermilio says.

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