UFC expands presence in China, Asia
Mixed martial arts group hires NBA's FischerUpdated August 30 10:25 p.m. Beijing time
BEIJING – Former NBA executive Mark Fischer has been tapped to set up the Asia office of the Ultimate Fighting Championship with the goal of expanding the Boston-based company’s mixed martial arts television programming across the region.
Fisher, who spent 12 years with the NBA and helped build its successful NBA China business with partners Disney and ESPN, will act as UFC’s executive vice president and managing director for Asia.
Based in Beijing for now, Fischer will try to build up local mixed martial arts talent and forge ties with regional sports federations, such as the China National Wushu Federation.
In North America, the UFC’s primary business model is pay-per-view, and the company hosts about 12-14 events per year, which on average attract about a million subscribers, many of them public venues such as bars, Fischer said, adding that total viewership is considerably higher.
In fact, UFC President Dana White cites statistics that show the company’s events and programming are now reaching 500 million households worldwide, Fischer said.
“Our goal is to be in a billion households worldwide in the coming years, and Asia is key to that growth because of the regions’ aptitude in martial arts,” Fischer told The Hollywood Reporter over the phone from Boston.
A Chinese version of popular weekly reality series "The Ultimate Fighter" is expected to kick off UFC’s expansion.
“Most martial arts were founded in Asia and we have a lot of respect for that, but this show shows a lot of the background to the sport and we think it’s a great way to introduce the mixed martial arts across the region,” Fischer said.
Last year, for six months through December, non-live UFC events aired across China inside a Saturday and Sunday night magazine program called “Fight Weekend” on Inner Mongolia Television.
China currently has about 420 million households, 400 million of which have TV sets. The country is also home to about 250 million 18-24 year-old males, UFC’s target audience.
Currently, UFC is not on Chinese TV but programming from UFC affiliate WEC, or World Extreme Cagefighting, is airing on new Tianjin-based digital cable channel Power Sports, China’s first nationwide HD sports channel.
Launched in July, Power Sports is dedicated to contact sports such as boxing and judo and soon will air programming from the NHL and NFL, a source familiar with the channel told The Hollywood Reporter.
UFC also recently signed Chinese lightweight Zhang Tiequan to a WEC deal and opened a Chinese Website, UFC.cn, Fischer said. “Zhang will become a part of the UFC family and be included in a great many of our programs and events.”
China’s cable market has reached 180 million households, of which 110 million are analog and nearly 70 million are digital cable, up from merely two million digital cable households just four years ago.
The government has handed out free set-top boxes city by city across China in a push to meet the all-cable target deadline of 2015.
Though Fischer will be based in China for now, UFC is considering other possible regional headquarters and Fischer will have a broad regional mandate to expand the company’s programming across the region.