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« | Home | »

WWE humiliating UFC in their backyard leads us to ask five important questions

By Zach Arnold | January 8, 2014

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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.

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:

UFC may laugh now but if their PPV buy rates keep dropping like WWE’s PPV buy rates have, look out.

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.

May you live in interesting times, Lorenzo.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, WWE, Zach Arnold | 33 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

33 Responses to “WWE humiliating UFC in their backyard leads us to ask five important questions”

  1. Jonathan says:

    I think that humiliation is a very strong word to use.

    And I don’t think that many people know about the UFC Fight Pass just yet, and I don’t think that there is nearly as much backlash as you want there to be Zach.

    This is the UFC, they are the sport, and they will be fine.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    WrestleMania vs. Wee is probably the best description for how lopsided this one has become. Hysterical and sad all at the same time.


    I don’t think PPV is dead either just yet. But look at the direction it is going in.

    WWE – Basically said bye to PPV
    BOXING – Only 4 or so major events last year.
    TNA – Gave up on PPV.
    Bellator – Couldn’t make it work.

    This leaves the UFC as the ONLY monthly PPV producer. This will do one of two things. Either it will give the UFC leverage to get a greater percentage of each PPV buy…. Or it will gets the general public away from the idea of spending their money on PPV and more towards a monthly subscription…. And will make the choice for the UFC for them.


    What I do think this means is that the UFC is going to have to up their game. Right now the FP looks like a horrible option. They need to include PPV’s just like the WWE is doing. I’m not saying they need to include them all. But they probably need to include 7 of them… And then only have 6 major events on PPV per year.

    I just don’t see how you can even advertise FP with a straight face without bringing more to the table for the same price as the WWE.


    I can’t wait until Ariel Helwani and other members of the media ask Dana White about the WWE Network. In typical Dana White fashion he will get pissy and act like it is no big deal. But you know right now both Lorenzo and Dana are sweating bullets because they are looking like fools.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      Boxing already has four PPVs essentially set for 2014:

      -Canelo/Angulo on March 8 (probably a 300K buy show)
      -Pacquiao/Provodnikov (probably) on April 12 (probably a 400-500K buy show)
      -Mayweather/Khan (probably) on May 3 (probably a 750K+ buy show with some international business)
      -Cotto/Martinez (probably) on June 7 (probably a 300K+ buy show)

      HBO made the smart move and took their guys off PPV for a little while to try and build some new stars. Of course, Showtime then went and took half of them, but HBO is still running half those PPVs. The UFC could always do that. The flip side is that UFC contracts are so one sided, the buys could fall to 100K-150K and they’d probably still break even just by trimming post fight bonuses.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        Boxing is without question doing it the correct way.

        They are waiting for the fighters to be star material before they are asking the fans to pay for their fights. And they don’t have a set number of PPV’s they are forcing down the fans throats. If it is there they do it. If it isn’t, they don’t. And I see nothing wrong with HBO & Showtime each putting on 4 or so PPV’s in a year for the RIGHT FIGHTS!!

        That is completely different then the WWE/UFC model. Their model is to put on a PPV every month, regardless of if they have the star power to do so. And the WWE has now basically ended this PPV for the sake of PPV business model.

        This leaves the UFC as the only company left doing it…. Which could make them look like silly in the future. People might not be fans of both the WWE and UFC. And they might not understand the business reasons behind it. But when one company gives away their PPV’s for $10 a month. And another industry only puts fights on PPV that are the super super fights. This will make fans second guess spending money on UFC PPV’s.

        Don’t get me wrong. Silva/Weidman 2 type of PPV’s will still sell. But I think when the marketplace dictates a cheaper price point, we are going to see an even greater dip in purchases for the UFC’s lesser PPV’s. And it will likely get to a point that pointing them on PPV is no longer cost effective. I think that is less then 2 years away to be honest. The trend is showing it.

        • cutch says:

          HBO & Showtime because they are subscription channels and bring in constant big money to the cable industry have a lot more say and can cut back or add Boxing PPVs to their schedule.

          WWE & UFC are probably in a more set contract, so they might have to produce 13 PPVs a year, the WWE is still going to do this but they have pissed off the cable industry according to Dave Meltzer, with DirecTV saying they might drop them, I doubt WWE minds that as they want customers to subscribe to their network but if the UFC tried to drop some PPVs or put them on UFC Fight Pass, who is to say the likes of DirecTV would even let them? and if they had no choice, they could drop all their PPVs.

  3. Sundog says:

    “Unforced error” really sums up the situation here. Unfortunately for everyone in involved, Zuffa has a bad habit of getting just a little TOO greedy and stabbing themselves in the foot, especially when they’re nervous.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      That is the real difference here. Greed.

      The WWE wants to gain more control of their content. So what do they do? They discount the price of it and hope to make it up on volume. And the more people who watch their PPV’s the more fans they will have for the future.

      The UFC wants to gain more control of their content. So what do they do? They just increase the number of cards and charge MORE money for it. And in the process, they will have less people watching their fights.

      I think it is becoming more and more obvious that the UFC’s success had more to do with LUCK then it did with a fundamental understanding of how their audience wants to experience their “product” (as Fertitta likes to call it).

  4. 45 Huddle says:

    WWE is estimating that the need between 800k to 1 Million to “break even”. I can’t imagine that is just for the online streaming system. That has to include losing all of those PPV buys in exchange for the WWE Network.

  5. D Lew says:

    Silly. You’re comparing apples to oranges. First the WWE is going after a very large part of their market to even break even or make this work. trying to make up for a dead PPV market for them. Where the UFC is doing this as a supplemental Package for their very devoted fan base that wants to watvh absolutely everything UFC. In the forthcoming years if the UFC plan works for world expansion this format makes great sense and will grow with. For the casual fan that watches just the free Fox cards and or the occasional PPV they would have no need for this. All you have to do is look at what numbers you see each company expects ,wants and needs to call this a success. For the WWE it looks like if this fails it could mean disaster whereas the UFC not so much as FOX and big worlwide TV deals as well as PPV’s are their primary focus.. This is just another ill conceived piece of tripe trying to get headlines by saying the UFC is falling apart again. My you really do have no buisiness understanding. Maybe the author should just go work for the SUN or ENQUIRER since he writes trash.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      A significant portion of UFC’s fan base is made up of pro-wrestling fans. WWE is very much a model they emulate after for business practices.

      If UFC didn’t watch WWE so closely, they wouldn’t have sent reps to CES tonight to watch the dump-truck unfold.

      Nobody is arguing that UFC Fight Pass is as integral to UFC’s biz model as WWE Network will be to WWE. The point is that UFC rushed Fight Pass first to try to beat WWE to the punch in order to win the news cycle and in the process has set themselves up for humiliation.

      WWE Network will reach all jurisdictions of the world in a few years. Fight Pass is US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia.

      This is just another ill conceived piece of tripe trying to get headlines by saying the UFC is falling apart again.

      Who made that argument? Nobody. Grab some pine, meat.

      • rst says:

        “WWE is very much a model they emulate after for business practices.”

        Fair enough, but should it be? The original UFC model was tacky hyper violent action movies, video games characters… Celebrity interviews…

        The fight or die pit from Milius’s Conan. But could it be more?

      • Alan Conceicao says:

        …or did they rush it to market to have some method of distribution for craptacular shows like the Singapore one last week?

  6. 45 Huddle says:

    I disagree with Alan’s tweet.

    Through September 2013, the WWE has put on 8 PPV’s. The UFC has put on 10.

    The UFC’s average PPV Buys were 409,000.

    The WWE’s average PPV Buys were 380,000 (235,000 in US).

    The WWE has a much better presence internationally which is why their number is so high and very close to what the UFC has done this year.

    And the digital network is going to be eating into those PPV numbers eventually across the world. My guess would be that within 3 years they are basically in every country that matter for their bottom line.

    They are cannibalizing their PPV Business in an attempt to get more viewers long term and to no longer have to deal with the cable companies taking half.

    • cutch says:

      International PPVs are generally half the price of US PPVs so they will be making a lot less revenue per buy.

      That 9 months you counted includes Wrestlemania, their big money maker, had you done a full 12 months (either the end of 2012 or 2013) the difference would be much larger, Survivor Series one of the traditional big 4 (although it hasn’t been for some time)did under 200,000 buys worldwide.

      Wrestlemania 31 will not be on the WWE network, that will only be available in PPV, they will take a big hit this year because they want people to subscribe but people will have to pay full price, it’s a brilliant move from them in my book.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      The WWE’s PPVs continued to fall through the year. They were getting less than 100,000 PPV buys domestically for some shows. The UFC has never been at that point since TUF 1, and, in fact, just popped its first 7 figure buy rate in years. As established already: The international PPV cost is lower, and while they make a comparable amount of money presently with their TV deals, the UFC does it without paying for all the things the UFC pays for (NXT, film studio, many more hours of weekly programming, etc).

      They’re doing this because their PPV model is essentially dead. The UFC has no reason to do it because their PPV model isn’t. That’s why their internet network is set up to get money from rube hardcore fans who need to watch *any* UFC, and the WWE’s is a bet for their long term success.

      • cutch says:

        You also have to look at some of the WWE PPVs they put out, most of the time it’s no better than the matches they put on Raw & Smackdown, in fact it usually is the same matches, they just are asking you to pay for them.

        They added an hour to Raw and instead of trying to get the wrestlers more over with better story lines they have basically just made the matches longer, so besides the PPV main event, the matches on Raw & Smackdown are usually longer and better.

        They have also scaled back on set production for PPVs, so a WWE PPV probably costs the same amount to produce as Raw and perhaps Smackdown if it goes live.

        Wrestlemania season they bring back the big stars like The Rock, Brock Lesner and The Undertaker etc but the other 10/11 months of the year it’s just the normal roster wrestling each other as million times and they just happen to charge you once a month.

  7. The Gaijin says:

    Well it’s not all bad news for Zuffa, as I heard UFC 168 is projected to have done approx. 1M-1.1M in buys. Not to mention the increased PPV price tag!

    Hopefully that was a kingmaking performance for Weidman and shows that Rousey really is a true draw (one of the few with GSP, Anderson and Brock gone).

    • edub says:

      Makes you wonder what a rematch between Hendricks and GSP would have done.

      • rst says:

        I’d have a good feeling that Hendricks is good, and because of that jumped a few spots.
        I have a good feeling that after 5 rounds of feeling out this come-up, that GSP would have surgically dismatled him.

        Sans a GSP personal issues.

        (I agree that hendricks probably won the first fight. Boo Hoo.)

    • Dave says:

      I mean, I hate to be that guy, but I just don’t see Anderson Silva breaking his leg against Weidman as a “kingmaking” performance. If the fight was stopped in the first when he was pounding away? Yeah, I think it would have been, but I’m just not sure.

      UFC has a hard time selling their champions no matter who is watching them, it seems.

      • rst says:

        “a “kingmaking” performance.”

        What else do you want?

        You want Weidman to beat on him for 25 minutes?
        Would you be satisfied?

        Thats not the way a fair fight necessarily works.

        • Dave says:

          I don’t really want anything out of it. I’m just not sure it’s enough for him to just slide right in and replace Anderson as a draw.

  8. rst says:

    Its still apples and Oranges IMO.
    There might be some crossover, and probably the kind of stuff zuffa would be interested in,
    but it affects my mood andf interests as much as the latest brittany spears album.

    Although the fact is when the latest brittany spears album begins to affect ufc matchmaking and promotion,
    thats when it very much affects me.

    I wouldn’t talk that up Boss.

  9. […] Zach Arnold follows both pro wrestling and MMA closely, and had this to say: 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. […]

  10. rst says:

    I think fight pass is awesome. Thats all they have left… Heres everything we used to do…

  11. Alan Conceicao says:

    WWE Network is only really relevant to the UFC if people buy it and stop watching the UFC PPVs as a result. I doubt that happens. If anything, it means that fans forced to choose between one in the other have probably been choosing the UFC, and now no longer will need to.

  12. Jonathan says:


    I think that we have moved beyond pro wrestling fans and MMA fans being one in the same.

    This is not the year 2000, when I would say that was true. We are now in 2014, and I think that MMA fans are MMA fans and pro wrestling fans are pro wrestling fans. I do not think that there is a lot of crossover, and I think that our sport has matured long enough to where they have their own dedicated fan base that is wholly separate from pro wrestling\’s fan base.

    Additionally, one reason I think that you see a correlation is because you are so far involved with both the pro wrestling environment and the MMA environment. I know that sounds weird, but what I mean is that since you focus so much on both worlds, you are going to see similarities and make connections between the two that are simply not there.

    Just my two cents. I enjoyed the article, even if I disagreed with it.

  13. 45 Huddle says:

    Keith Kizer RESIGNED. Have to wonder if he was pushed out after the Mayweather problems and White going off on him after GSP/Hendricks. When the big money guys get upset…. Things happen…

  14. Mark says:

    Last year the UFC could have bragged. But when they are down to one draw (Rona Rousey) versus one draw (The Undertaker), then both sides should shut up.

  15. Mike Pascal says:

    Royston Wee et al have future global stocks whereas the wwe etc are basically limited to the nascar belt.

  16. […] a Pollyanna-view of their respective situations. In a similar vein, without the unveiling of the WWE’s digital network, some MMA fans would not be able to see the flaws and shortcomings of the UFC’s Fight […]


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