By Zach Arnold | January 8, 2014
WWE is launching their Network at CES in Vegas, UFC's backyard. The ultimate humiliation for Zuffa. Why they pushed Fight Pass incomplete.
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) January 9, 2014
Vince McMahon just dump-trucked Dana White & Lorenzo Fertitta in Las Vegas at CES on Wednesday night. It’s official: the WWE Network is being launched in late February. Every WWE PPV will be available for monthly subscribers. They are using the six-month template for subs if you want to lock in a price of $10/month. So, one normal PPV bill of $60 gets you six months of WWE’s channel online. Included on the WWE Network is access to all WWE, WCW, and ECW PPVs. And Wrestlemania.
Oh, by the way, MLB TV is consulting Stamford with the WWE Network and all content will be available on a billion different type of media platforms.
That is the sound of Zuffa getting castrated in their own backyard. And there were witnesses, all right.
To those sayin you can't compare the WWE digital network to the UFC's: Then why are there UFC employees in attendance for the announcement?
— Luca Fury (@FurysFightPicks) January 9, 2014
On Tuesday, I did a radio interview for Sirius XM with Ricky Bones, RJ Clifford, and Steve Cofield to talk about UFC Fight Pass and why the service so far has not impressed many fans. You can listen to the interview here. The consensus amongst us as to why UFC rushed Fight Pass out for public consumption was, partially, due in part to the upcoming launch of the WWE Network. In other words, UFC wanted to win the media news cycle by launching Fight Pass first even if it wasn’t a complete product and a product not 100% tested for bugs or failures.
After Wednesday night, one thing is for sure: the WWE Network is going to make the launch of UFC Fight Pass look like the launch of HealthCare.Gov. And that is not a position Zuffa wants to be in with the 18-to-34 year old demographic.
Of course, the stakes are much higher for WWE. They are aiming for 1 million subscribers. Reportedly, UFC would be happy with 100,000 subscribers for Fight Pass. There’s a reason WWE is so much more motivated to make their zero TV play work:
here's a newsflash; you know why WWE network is giving away the PPVs? bc people stopped buying them
— Alan Conceicao (@godsonsafari) January 9, 2014
UFC may laugh now but if their PPV buy rates keep dropping like WWE’s PPV buy rates have, look out.
WWE kicking off their digital platform with Wrestlemania. UFC kicking off their digital platform with Royston Wee.
— Brad Taschuk (@bradtaschuk) January 9, 2014
Now that the big announcement has been made by WWE at CES, there are five important questions that need to be answered in light of today’s developments.
1. Why did the UFC not launch Fight Pass as a joint venture with Fox Sports?
This is not necessarily an obvious question that pops into your mind, but it may historically turn out to be a very critical question if Fight Pass does not succeed. And it could be a giant unforced error by a company (UFC) that brags about being the be-all, end-all to the 18-to-34 year old sports fan.
Fox Sports has all the technology & resources at its fingertips to make UFC Fight Pass a monstrous success for an online media property. The UFC has many more years of business to conduct with Fox Sports. Fox is their TV partner. Why on Earth would UFC insist on keeping Fight Pass as an independent project if it meant handicapping themselves to the point that they would get humiliated by all the other sports & entertainment leagues who are jumping into the zero TV fray?
This is all about control, hubris, and ego. And nobody is better playing that game that Vince McMahon. Even with the WWE product as stagnant as it is, they remain ahead of the curve (as opposed to UFC) on the media front.
2. Can Fight Pass rebound and convince fans turned off by a bad first impression from the rocky launch?
The answer: probably, yes. Most MMA fans want to see Fight Pass work. They want to see it succeed. Which is why the reaction to our three Fight Pass articles (here, here, and here) has been rather constructive & productive. It’s OK to acknowledge errors made in the launch as long as they are fixed. But when you start getting combative with the critics and you make customer service look secondary in priority, you’re going to piss off the wrong fans.
I honestly believe that a relaunch of Fight Pass with Fox Sports would be the right call to make. As long as UFC is keeping this in-house, they are not going to be able to compete with the big boys. Unless UFC is convinced that Fox is not going to be a long-term business partner and someone like ESPN is going to be, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t cut a deal with the Murdoch empire for their online venture.
3. Has WWE nuked the concept of wrestling PPV forever?
The great irony in WWE shifting their PPVs to the online WWE Network is that it leaves a gaping hole for a company like TNA to take advantage of. They could run PPV and have distributors more invested in their success with WWE on the sidelines.
Instead, TNA has chosen the wrong time to abandon PPV. They abandoned PPV because they couldn’t make it work. Their matchmaking sucks. Even ECW ran better on PPV than TNA. And yet, WWE is giving TNA an opportunity to get on the PPV space and make a run at it. But TNA is completely ill-equipped to pull it off.
Does that mean any future major promotions are iced out of PPV? No, I don’t believe so. Which leads us to question four.
4. Is the concept of PPV itself dead?
I don’t believe it is dead. I do believe the idea of monthly wrestling PPVs is dead in the water. Quarterly shows are still on the table. Big boxing & MMA fights are still on the table. But the idea of one or two PPVs a month is dying.
UFC may be happy that WWE is minimizing their foot print on PPV but I don’t see Zuffa being able to build enough stars to take advantage of the situation. Plus, they run shows on Saturdays and not Sundays.
Floyd Mayweather has shown that PPV is still viable. Boxing events will still be able to draw 400,000 a pop. As long as HBO & Showtime are involved in boxing, PPV will remain a key part of the business plan. There are too many business interests involved to let PPV die.
5. How will Viacom (through Bellator) jump into the zero TV fray with the UFC & WWE sharks in the water?
It was suggested, perhaps facetiously, that if there was a Bellator Fight Pass featuring TNA PPVs & GLORY kickboxing events that it would draw better than UFC Fight Pass.
Even if you dismiss that and put that notion to the side, there is some truth to the argument that Bellator (with their Viacom resources) could further fan the flames with Zuffa over digital content presented online.
Given how the first Bellator PPV imploded (the Long Beach show with Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler II), doing something online with Bellator PPVs could give Viacom motivation to reorganize and prioritize their assets in pushing Bellator as a more legitimate player in 2014. We already know how much Spike TV suits & UFC bosses hate each other.
We know the BS right now with UFC’s stalking horse, WSOF, making empty media challenges to Bellator. Bellator is right to ignore those calls. Rich Hansen at MMA Torch absolutely threw a wet blanket over UFC & WSOF’s pathetic attempts to drag Bellator into a second-tier feud. What makes Bellator an MMA company with possibilities is the Viacom ownership and they know media real well. With WWE and UFC now into the zero TV fray for good, it’s time for Viacom to step up to the plate and make a big splash. They very well could do so if motivated. If that happens, it will create a headache for the UFC. Especially if Viacom was able to persuade WWE to move RAW/Smackdown to Spike TV in 2014.
@FightOpinion a Spike/Viacom winning bid for RAW gives Bellator a huge boost and could be an interesting marriage vs Zuffa.
— Magnum G.I. (@TheMagnumGI) January 9, 2014
May you live in interesting times, Lorenzo.