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Why are the Ultimate Fighter ratings on FS1 lower than expected?

By Zach Arnold | September 26, 2013

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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:

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.

Topics: MMA, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 16 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

16 Responses to “Why are the Ultimate Fighter ratings on FS1 lower than expected?”

  1. Chris C says:

    They are on a new network that many people arent watching, its also a network that is in 10 million less homes than FX/Spike.

    Also dont think you can take the first Sat live PPV quality event and compare that to a Wed showing of TUF.

    That first event was PPV quality, also TUF runs on Wed during the time the most popular reality show on tv airs. Duck Dynasty kills it with 10 million viewers a week and kills it in all the demo.

    But its not just because it runs against a popular show. That may play a part in it but the reality is its on a network that last week the highest rated show was the UFC prelims which did 700k viewers.

    Think about that for a second, when you’re promoting TUF on FS1 the most viewers that watched the network at one time was 700k that week. When they were on FX they were promoting TUF in front of 5 million viewers during Sons of Anarchy. 2 million for ARcher, millions for American Horror Story, Justified, hell even the FX movies do 1.5 million viewers.

    So when you add up a network in 10 million less homes and you arent promoting during shows that are doing millions and millions of viewers you arent gonna attract big numbers.

    Everyone wants to make a case that its TUF, maybe after TUF 16 I could buy that but then TUF 17 bounced right back and did 1.3 mill average. Its not the show, its Ronda, its not females, actually more people tune in for the female fights so far this season and def care more about them than the male fighters. Its not the show, even if it is stale to some people after 18 seasons, its the network.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    I am actually surprised the ratings are this high so far. I’m not saying it is a success…. but I was thinking it was going to average around 500k for the first season on FS1. And the show did in the Top 50 for the key demographic… Which is amazing considering that it is on such an unknown channel. By comparison, Bellator doesn’t crack the Top 100 in the key demographic on a slow TV night on a much more popular channel.

    Long term, the UFC needed to be treated like a sport and be on a sports network. There is much more money for the UFC to make when they are not considered “entertainment” like they were on SpikeTV. That is the difference between getting $90 Million Contracts per year…. And getting under $100k per show like Bellator is getting.

    The reality is that SPEED use to average 200k viewers. Then they killed that fanbase and tried to start from scratch again. The UFC needs to see their average viewers get over 1 Million per live show and TUF Episodes. But that probably won’t happen until around this time next year. And during that time, more and more sports will be added to FS1, increasing the overall viewership.


    “Unlike other UFC programming on Fox networks, this is the show where the suits look at the live airing numbers plus the DVR figures.”

    This is very true. Advertisers don’t care about the DVR Numbers. The in show advertisers probably care. But right now FOX just wants as many people to know about the channel as possible. And that means DVR viewers are an important number for FS1 in the first year of existence.

  3. RST says:

    I think Jon/Glover is a good move. (It happens every once in awhile, just the odds.)

    I was thinking Gus/Glover for an elimination, but Jon/Glover is better to get Jon back up to speed after wasting his talent and time.

    Gus? Lyoto. Duh!

  4. Nepal says:

    The whole TUF experience is the problem. I can’t imagine it doing well under any circumstance, channel or whatever. The show is unwatchable. If you’re an adult, there is no way in the world you are going to watch 2 season’s per year when 75% of the show is pure childishness. I don’t watch the show because I could care less about manufactured idiocy, that and the show comes on at 9am in my time zone. I still however download the torrent and scim through the shows weekly and watch the fight at the end. I’ve been doing this for years, no ads, no fake drama, just the fights and I stop scimming when a particular guest comes on or some training looks interesting.

    The whole issue about viewership seems like an artificial argument. It’s a reality show, kids watch reality shows, when they grow up, they don’t or do to a far less degree. The idea that they’re drawing hard core MMA fans is absurd. Why would MMA fans want to watch a reality show more than any other demographic? I expect they would be more like me, interested in watching the fight, interested in seeing some potentially skilled fighter come up, interested in seeing guests like Mike Tyson or other. But sitting through an hour weekly is… impossible. Does anybody really think they’re ever going to get regular viewership much over a million people?

    Comparing a reality show to a PPV quality event like Chael/Shogun is apples to oranges. The overlap isn’t even likely that large, when it does overlap, it’s mainly kids.

    Am I missing something here? Do any of the readers here even know any adult that watches the entire show every week?

    BTW Rhonda has done herself no favours here. Having watched the bit’s I’ve watch over the first 4 episodes, I’m totally off her bandwagon. Definitely rooting for Tate now. She’s made herself look very very bad.

    I should add one caveat, I haven’t lived in the US for 15 years now and watch TV very rarely. I left the US before the reality TV phenomenon hit so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. In fact I’m not sure I even know anyone that has ever watched on episode of reality TV ever… other than myself and that’s just early TUF or the first shows of the season.

    • Steve4192 says:

      “If you’re an adult, there is no way in the world you are going to watch 2 season’s per year when 75% of the show is pure childishness. “

      You just described every reality show ever made. They are all garbage, but viewers can’t get enough of them and networks love them because they are dirt cheap to produce.

      Speaking of shitty reality TV shows with awful ratings, Bellator just announced that there will be a season 2 of FightMaster.

    • Steve4192 says:

      “I left the US before the reality TV phenomenon hit so I’m hardly an expert on the subject”

      Clearly not.

      Duck Dynasty is a reality show that runs opposite TUF and regularly pulls in around 10 MILLION viewers and it’s not even on one of the big broadcast networks. It regularly triples or quadruples the ratings its competition and is the undisputed king of cable TV.

      • Nepal says:

        Wow, well we’ve agreed on my lack of expertise. In fact I’ve never heard of Duck Dynasty. I’m stunned to hear a reality show gets 10 million viewers. That does change my perspective on TUF though. I guess that’s what TUF is trying to achieve. Why one show does 10 Mil and one show does sub 1 mil is way waay beyond me though.

    • RST says:

      “If you’re an adult…”

      The reason you’re here,
      is because you’ve already been to sherdog/bloodyelbow/mmatv,etc.

      Adults dont make up the bulk of,
      or are the intended market for MMA.

      (Defending yourself with your own hands would seem like the “ultimate” manifestation of self reliance and responsibility. Life is full of dichotomies!)

  5. Jason says:

    First of I hate drama and that’s all TUF is, granted it’s been better since moving to Fox. All I do is DVR the show and then fast forward to the fights.

  6. 45 Huddle says:

    It shows that Bellator is an ego thing for some Executive who dislikes the UFC.

    There is no way… based on the ratings… that FM should be at Season 2.

    It would make more sense to just do 10 more live shows a year which gets better ratings.

  7. 45 Huddle says:

    Yushin “Thunder” Okami has been cut by the UFC.

    This will be another one of those Jon Fitch sort of things. Before he was cut, people complained how boring the fighter is and how they don’t want to watch cards when they are on it. And then once they are cut, they are “outraged” by the UFC for cutting them.

    Is it the best cut in the world? No. Does he make way more then he is bringing in? Yes. Will he ever fight for a title again? No. And that is why he is cut. The guy can’t even draw fans when the UFC goes to Japan.

    I’m sure Bellator or WSOF will sign him for $30,000 a fight, which is probably what he should be paid based on what he is worth.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Bellator is an option but One FC I guess has a shot, too. New Japan for tags with Sakuraba is viable, though.

      But I wouldn’t tie Okami and UFC’s biz in Japan together. So many dynamics at play there.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        It will be ONE FC or WSOF. I doubt Bellator touches him. They didn’t touch Fitch who was more marketable.

        I don’t blame Okami for the UFC’s success/failure in Japan. But if Okami was even remotely a draw in Japan, he would probably still be on the roster. The fact is that he is not a draw anywhere in the world.


        On a side note, many more roster cuts are coming. Right now the UFC is running 4 Facebook fights per event. That is just wasted money. There should be 2 Facebook Fights per event as back up.

        Plus they need to increase the roster sizes of the Flyweight and Female Divisions. So they will either have to run more shows and shrink the existing divisions even more.

  8. RST says:

    She’s come off terribly?

    Or she’s just an awful person?

  9. David m says:

    I haven’t watched since Rashad v Rampage season, which was awesome because they are both charismatic and seemed on the verge of killing each other.

  10. Ken says:

    Here is something else to think about. I am not a fan of mainstream sports (ex. football, baseball, etc). However I do love combat sports of any type. The moving of TUF to FS1 has created a problem for me. This channel does not come with the standard cable package I have. So, this means I have to pay for an extra package of channels just to watch one show. It is not worth it to me. So I haven’t been able to watch TUF. So sad because I was a loyal watcher and enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t know if FS1 is an extra channel that everyone has to pay for or it’s just my provider, but it really stinks.


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