“I wouldn’t be in favor of this kind of sport, where people can actually get hurt,” Mr. Redstone said at the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles. “You have to know the difference between the bottom line and your social responsibility. This may be good for the bottom line. It’s bad for social responsibility.”
At the same conference, Fox Sports President Ed Goren said it was unlikely his network would air MMA events.
“We don’t need the money that badly,” Mr. Goren said. “I know it has a following, it has a young demo, but we’ll leave it to others and I don’t anticipate us getting involved.”
A spokeswoman for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan group that has monitored violence on television, said it plans to watch the broadcast closely.
“I think this is entirely different in nature than football and that ilk,” said Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for council. “It’s intensely, intensely violent. There’s always concern about kids being exposed to those kinds of things.”
However, Ms. Henson said her group has not contacted CBS or ProElite because it has generally focused on reducing violence in scripted television, not live sports.
The growing popularity of MMA, particularly among young men, suggests that CBS could earn big ratings for its fights. And the financial risk for CBS appears to be minimal - the network isn’t paying any rights fees.
“They don’t have to pay very much, it doesn’t cost a lot to produce and if it’s successful, it will be hugely profitable,” said Andrew Bergstein, associate director of the Center for Sports Business Research at Penn State University. “And if it’s successful and it gets renewed, that’s an indication that [MMA] is up in the big leagues.”
But there are some things working against CBS. Saturday night programming generally doesn’t earn big ratings. And ProElite is considered a struggling, second-tier fight league, well behind UFC; recent financial filings show the company has lost more than $5 million this year alone. Meanwhile, some advertisers are expected to stay away to avoid controversy.
Still, according to TV analysts, the prime-time platform presents the potential for MMA to truly break out as a mainstream sport.
“There really is no reason they can’t become the next NASCAR,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “Not that I’m betting my retirement on it, but it’s certainly possible.”