CBS punches up primetime

Clinches mixed martial arts deal

CORRECTED 9:17 a.m. PT Feb. 29

NEW YORK -- CBS will air at least four live ProElite EliteXC fights a year in primetime on Saturdays, becoming the second broadcast network -- after MyNetworkTV -- to televise mixed martial arts events.

Financial terms of Thursday's deal weren't announced, but Showtime, another CBS Corp. unit, already airs ProElite's EliteXC matches live, and CBS is an investor in ProElite.

The deal calls for four two-hour primetime specials. It also includes an online component that has not been announced but could include streaming and an online community. The first match will air in the spring.

Mixed martial arts is a phenomenon in the sporting world, drawing a wide and growing audience for its blend of martial arts, boxing and wrestling in caged and open rings. CBS hopes to tap into the young audience and also revitalize a Saturday night schedule replete with low-rated repeats.

"This seems to be a perfect vehicle for that," CBS primetime senior executive vp Kelly Kahl said.

For ProElite, it adds legitimacy to a sport that has had difficulty attracting blue-chip advertisers despite its popularity.

Douglas DeLuca, ProElite's CEO and a former TV producer, said he is pleased that CBS was willing to do a deal.

"The more we educate people, the more events we do, the more and more advertisers are going to feel comfortable getting into the sport," he said.

CBS will pay a licensing fee to ProElite for the right to carry the matches; more than likely it will be Showtime's production team that will produce the events. CBS and ProElite will jointly sell advertising.