By Zach Arnold | September 26, 2013
— MMA Supremacy (@MMASupremacy) September 26, 2013
We’re a month into the Ronda Rousey/Miesha Tate Ultimate Fighter series and so far, the numbers are… inconsistently consistent. Low, yes, but fluctuating. Unlike other UFC programming on Fox networks, this is the show where the suits look at the live airing numbers plus the DVR figures. We only get a glimpse at the live airing ratings, so let’s take a look at numbers from MMA Payout about the first month:
Week 1: 762,000
Week 2: 870,000
Week 3: 639,000
Week 4: 778,000
We know all about the problems with Ultimate Fighter. The show has worn out its welcome. It doesn’t recruit the best young talent because if you’re good enough to fight in the UFC, the UFC has already signed you. The show has bounced from network to network. The concept of a “6-figure contract” holds little regard in terms of credibility.
With this season of Ultimate Fighter, some new dynamics entered into the equation.
The show is airing on a new channel (Fox Sports 1). The argument is that the network is growing its audience. The problem with this argument is that when the channel launched, UFC blew the roof off the ratings with their Boston event headlined by Chael Sonnen with 1.8 million viewers. So, hiding behind the “FS1 is a new channel” line of reasoning doesn’t hold water for UFC because of UFC’s proven strength to mobilize its hardcore fan base.
The show has multiple airings on Fox Sports 1. The show airs “live” on all coasts, so the 10 PM airing on the East Coast is 7 PM on the West Coast. I like it, but it undoubtedly has an impact on the ratings.
The obvious twist from this season of Ultimate Fighter is that men and women are in the same house and there are both male & female fights on the show. The hope was that the show would attract the hardcore fans plus draw in the casual fans who might be interested in seeing the ‘novelty’ of women fighting. The problem with that strategy is that there are already female fights in the UFC and they’ve been pretty good for the most part, so the novelty factor with Ultimate Fighter is gone.
Having female fighters on Ultimate Fighter was supposed to be the hook for attracting viewers. Instead, it has failed.
The plan was to draw hardcore & casual fan support. If you can’t attract all the hardcore fans, then at least attract enough casual fans who might not watch the UFC and somehow convert them into hardcores. That hasn’t happened. The twist with promoting women’s fights is that on a mixed male/female fight card, you’ll get your standard predominantly 18-to-34-year-old white male audience to watch. If you promote an all female card or a card heavily focused with multiple women’s fights, you attract a different kind of audience. Much like the WNBA or women’s college basketball attracts a very different audience than men’s basketball, a card with a lot of female fighters or personalities highlighted is not appealing enough to the Standard UFC Male Fan and so you have to hope that you can draw in new viewers, hopefully female, to watch the show.
There’s also the element of some female UFC fans who don’t want to watch women punching each other in the face. Same with some male UFC fans.
I asked our friend at MMA Payout about the demographic splits for this season and the claim is that the ratio of female viewers is largely unchanged from past seasons. What that indicates is that the UFC has not been able to reach out to casual viewers in hopes of converting them into new fight fans. We know that, according to Fox suits, that 80% of UFC’s audience on Fox is male. If you can’t attract more female viewers and the hardcore male viewers are tuning out, the ratings will remain low.
There just simply aren’t enough viewers who find this season of Ultimate Fighter entertaining. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed watching the show and watching the veterans go through their roller coaster ride of emotions. However, covering combat sports has always been my life so of course I’m going to watch the show with the new dynamics in place. What I find interesting this season about the show isn’t interesting enough to UFC’s hardcore audience.
Which brings us to the last factor: Ronda Rousey. She’s come off terribly on the show. The show could have either given her a positive boost (like Georges St. Pierre) or given her a negative boost. So far, horribly negative charisma. Instead of coming off as a great champion with a likeable personality (St. Pierre — despite those ridiculous NOS drink commercials), she’s coming off more like Jon Jones (great champion with mercurial personality and an artificial ceiling on attracting fan support).
Naturally, her mother is coming to her defense:
— DrAnnMaria (@DrAnnMaria) September 25, 2013
On Wednesday, she wrote this article defending her daughter’s behavior:
Ronda cares if she wins. When she loses it feels like the whole world fell in. She’s extremely loyal to people and when they are hurt, it hurts her.
People are sometimes offended by Ronda because she does not fit how they think she should act. At Ronda’s age, given the same degree of provocation, I would have punched out a few people, hit someone with a chair, told everyone to fuck off and walked out. This is why our family cannot do a reality TV show. So, no, I am the LAST person to ask don’t I think she should behave differently.
The problem is that when you agree to do a reality show, you know what the hazards are coming in and you have to be emotionally disciplined to not come off like an idiot given what the television editors are hoping to accomplish. Look at the track record of the show and the people involved in management. Many people have come off horribly bad on the Ultimate Fighter. The portrayal of Ronda, real or fake, has been a negative. It’s not going to cost her a lot of fans necessarily but as the days go by it’s harder and harder for her to lift the ceiling on what kind of fan support she can obtain. She and Jon Jones are great at what they do in the cage but they will have a ceiling on how many PPV buys they can attract on their own unless they are matched up against a great rival or opponent who can bring their own PPV buys to the table.
The Fox suits may be happy with the ratings for this season of Ultimate Fighter given how poorly FS1 is performing right now. However, the show isn’t helping to create new UFC fans and the impact it will have in bringing in PPV buys specifically for the Ronda/Tate fight may be smaller than first thought. Ronda’s still a 10-to-1 favorite at the sportsbooks. Not exactly the new “hottest rivalry in sports,” but I give Fox credit for trying to promote a show that seemingly isn’t appealing to UFC’s hardcore fan base.