In a battle brewing between television industry giants, DirecTV on Wednesday dropped the Versus Network from its programming lineup. The move takes away the only on-air option for DirecTV subscribers to watch World Extreme Cagefighting.
The promotion has a regular presence on Versus that includes not only live events -- WEC 43: Cerrone vs. Henderson is scheduled to air live on Oct. 10 -- but also WrekCage, a retrospective show featuring many of the promotion's top fights.
The cause of the battle depends on whom you ask.
DirecTV says that it is purely bullying tactics by Comcast, the largest cable operator in the United States, which also happens to own Versus.
"(Comcast's) unreasonable demands are the economic equivalent of juicing to gain an advantage over its competitors," DirecTV Executive Vice President Derek Chang said in a prepared statement sent to MMAWeekly.com.
"The deal that just expired was well above market value and beyond what other significant distributors were paying. To add insult to injury Comcast demanded we carry Versus at a 20 percent premium in a new deal, thereby forcing us to take down the channel."
On the flip side of the coin, Versus president Jamie Davis told SportsBusiness Daily, "The fact is that those market increases aren't true. We're simply asking them to pay what the other providers are paying."
More so than the battle over fees, Davis indicated to SportsBusiness Daily that the dispute is primarily over DirecTV's plans to move Versus to a lower tier, meaning that more than 6 million DirecTV subscribers who were receiving Versus at no additional cost would instead have to pay an additional fee to receive the network.
One MMAWeekly.com source close to the situation characterized DirecTV moving Versus to a lower tier as the "deal breaker" in negotiations, not the fees. That source characterized the point as "non-negotiable" to Versus and Comcast.
On the same day DirecTV pulled the plug on Versus, rival satellite television provider DISH Network made Versus available as a free preview to its subscribers for a three month period, which includes the Oct. 10 WEC event.
While WEC officials had not responded at the time of publication, UFC president Dana White recently commented on the situation.
"I have a new TV deal on Versus. I have a great relationship with them and they're owned by Comcast. Trust me when I tell you, them and DirecTV are gonna work it out. Maybe they'll keep butting heads and go off the air for a little while, but we're talking about Comcast. We're not talking about some wimpy little network or something like that. They're gonna figure it out."
Both DirecTV's Chang and Versus' Davis indicated they would continue working towards a resolution.