By Zach Arnold | May 21, 2014
The UFC rushed to launch Fight Pass before Vince McMahon could announce the launch of the WWE Network. And WWE proceeded to make that announcement in the UFC’s backyard.
At the time of the announcement, estimable writers like Jonathan Snowden of Bleacher Report (now the #2 sports site on the Internet) said that the launch of the WWE Network was the equivalent of shooting PPV in the head and leaving it for dead. My opinion was that the WWE Network would certainly be revolutionary and could perhaps help keep WWE’s business going in the future. At the same time, I never believed that PPV was a dying concept. As long as you have compelling stars, you can draw on PPV. And PPV still means something. Appointment-viewing content still means something. PPV still carries a level of unique interest. Both Dave Meltzer and Mauro Ranallo (on Fight Opinion Radio) also agreed with those sentiments.
Three months after the launch of the WWE Network, the only numbers released publicly so far indicate a little under 700,000 promised subscribers. How many of them being paid subscribers versus deadbeats is yet to be determined. At a Monday conference call, Vince McMahon & George Barrios said they would release new subscription numbers next quarter.
Since the launch of the WWE Network, three big outside developments have occurred that could directly impact business:
- 1. AT & T and DirecTV are now in the process of combining forces.
- 2. The FCC has opened the door for increased regulation of the Internet and the potential process of charging content providers more money if they want users to access their product online.
- 3. Comcast is reportedly indicating that they will place bandwidth caps on their Internet subscribers.
And then there’s WWE’s renewal of their television rights deal with NBC Universal, which resulted in a 25% increase in rights fees. Not exactly double. The result has been a stockholder revolt, featuring multiple parties issuing self-styled press releases claiming they would launch their own “independent investigations” against WWE for potential fraud given past claims made about how much money the company was going to get in the new round of television negotiations. You can read all the grizzly details here.
Our old friend James Caldwell at PW Torch autopsied the Monday WWE conference call with investors and it went about as badly as you could imagine. Vince McMahon lost hundreds of millions of dollars on paper and now he’s facing the prospect of having to potentially settle with angry investors/speculators.
— Pete (@longhornsMMA) May 19, 2014
The UFC has taken a different route with Fight Pass. They’ve included Ultimate Fighter series and B-level/C-level fight cards as fresh content. The company won’t give out specific subscription numbers but claim that subscriptions have exceeded internal expectations. The challenge that the UFC faces is that they have to convince fans that the content they’re pumping out is as important, if not more important, than what they’ve putting on cable & PPV. That’s a really hard sell. The WWE Network is the antithesis of UFC Fight Pass. WWE actually chose a fresh approach of telling fans that you will get A-level content on the platform rather than outtakes or scraps. I applaud them for trying to up the level of important content online. But the WWE has gone all-in here and abandoned PPV entirely.
As for the UFC, Dana White wants the media to do free publicity for Fight Pass while at the same time trashing them on social media while also claiming he doesn’t read the Internet any more. This Ben Fowlkes article on Renan Barao set him off.
So @danawhite says "no more journalists" and the UFC immediately announces a media scrum on Fight Pass. I'M SO CONFUSED.
— McKinley Noble (@KenTheGreat1) May 20, 2014
The UFC is stretched thin everywhere at this point. They’ve now included Ultimate Fighter Latino as scheduled programming on the site, which will feature Cain Velasquez & Fabricio Werdum as coaches. What’s the ceiling at this point for the number of subscribers they can attract with Fight Pass if WWE is struggling to make it big time by giving away their A-level content for $10 a month?