By Zach Arnold | March 4, 2011
The short version: More negative than positive trends.
The long version: More complicated and detailed.
Heading into Q2 and the rest of the calendar year, things look real big for the promotion. However, the Q1 has given us a glimpse into what the fans think and, so far, the fans see a lot of ’second-tier’ fighters that they may watch on free TV or even take a pass on but would never consider paying to watch in a high-profile position. Dave Meltzer says the initial estimate for a buy rate for UFC 127 (Australia) is in the 250-300k range for Jon Fitch vs. BJ Penn. About what I expected. Plus, we know how Gray Maynard vs. Frankie Edgar drew on PPV. Throw in the military charity event on Spike and the ION time buys and what you get is that there’s some interest, but not nearly the explosive kind of numbers that you were seeing as recently as a couple of years ago.
With more content available and much of it looking the same production-wise and booking-wise, today’s breed of fans are more selective and impatient as opposed to the old school MMA fans who treated everything as a big event.
(Jeff Thaler was talking to me on the phone a few days ago about this. Jeff says ‘hi’ to everyone out there in the readership.)
Yesterday’s UFC show on Versus drew a 0.7 cable rating. Expected, but not a great number. Especially compared to TNA drawing a goofy 1.4 rating for their dreadful wrestling show on Spike TV. Irony there given that Joe Warren, of all people, was on the telecast to plug Bellator on MTV2. The Versus shows for UFC simply aren’t drawing the eyeballs like the Spike TV telecasts and even the Spike shows are stagnant right now.
I don’t think UFC has plateaued by any means in terms of live business, but the TV side may be where it’s going to stay the same or decline a little. With Australia proving its worth as a big-time foreign market and Canada proving to be golden, the question now becomes what to do internationally and on television in a landscape where a lot of fans Stateside are giving more fighters the thumbs down than the thumbs up in terms of paying to watch them or even watch them for ‘free’ on cable. I would be remiss in forgetting to note how Strikeforce did on Showtime last month as compared to some of UFC’s cable TV events.
So I’ll throw the question out there — is the MMA fan base fragmenting into anti-UFC and pro-UFC as far as viewership goes? Normally, the pattern has been that you have your UFC fans and then some of those fans will watch ‘the competition’ but treat it as secondary. Are we starting to see real polarization in choice? I’m not talking about the simple message board flame wars, but a real honest-to-goodness polarization taking place amongst MMA consumers?
What can UFC do about the general consumer placing many of the fighters in the second-tier ‘not gonna pay to watch’ category? Let’s hear your constructive thoughts. Yes, I said constructive.
Bonus question: Has bad officiating (referee work & judge scoring) chased some fans away from watching the sport?