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By Zach Arnold | July 18, 2014
— ?????? (@GONG_KAKUTOGI) July 18, 2014
The original event schedule for July & August for the UFC involved 10 shows over 8 weeks. With the Staples Center event canceled, we’re down to 9 shows. We’ve had three shows so far. The first two reportedly drew a million eyeballs on Fox Sports 1. The third show, this past Wednesday, didn’t do so hot. But you had to be a real hardcore fan to even know that there was a Donald Cerrone fight happening. He’s a staple on the Fox broadcast shows and was positioned for a deep cable show, so it’s not much a surprise that even for a guy as exciting as he is that few people saw his fight with Jim Miller.
We have two events left for July, then four more for August. And the aggressive schedule picks up significantly more steam in the Fall, where the shows never stop — including the UFC’s latest attempt to win in Japan, which is an experiment that I find very provocative to say the least.
How the rest of July 2014 looks for UFC:
7/19 Dublin, Ireland at the O2 Arena
- Flyweights: Neil Seery vs. Phil Harris
- Light Heavyweights: Ilir Latifi vs. Chris Dempsey
- Lightweights: Norman Parke vs. Naoyuki Kotani
- Flyweights: Brad Pickett vs. Ian McCall
- Welterweights: Gunnar Nelson vs. Zak Cummings
- Featherweights: Conor McGregor vs. Diego Brandao
7/26 San Jose Arena
TV: Fox broadcast (all stations)
- Ladies (115 pounds): Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Juliana Lima
- Lightweights: Daron Cruickshank vs. Jorge Masvidal
- Lightweights: Josh Thomson vs. Bobby Green
- Featherweights: Clay Guida vs. Dennis Bermudez
- Light Heavyweights: Anthony Johnson vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
- Welterweights: Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown
According to Dave Meltzer in his recent interview with Sherdog, he said that ticket sales for the San Jose event were nothing special and that there is very little buzz at all heading into the show. This confirms what I had been hearing in the background. Sacramento will likely face the same troubles on August 30th. This isn’t the fault of the California MMA fans. They support the sport. But they also want to see the A-listers and that’s not happening.
After listening to the first half of that Sherdog interview, I proverbially wanted to jump off a cliff. It was a brutal autopsy of what has gone wrong for UFC and how self-inflicted the damage truly is. They haven’t hit rock bottom yet and will have to do so before their behavior changes. As noted in the interview, you can’t ask fans to watch a couple of hours of UFC prelims and then ask them to come back the next night to watch five more hours.
“There’s only so much time people are going to devote to this.”
One of the major problems for UFC has been giving up on their Prime Time three-episode hype series for big fights. They bleed cash when the shows air on Fox Sports 1 because FS1 isn’t the platform that Spike TV is. And yet, they are making more money than ever in TV rights. It’s the problem that MLB has right now and they, too, are a Fox Sports television property.
It was fascinating to listen to Dave talk about how a woman in Ronda Rousey is the face of MMA right now and that you just haven’t historically seen a woman be a major face of combat sports like she is now. The only other female in MMA who came close was Gina Carano. This observation was juxtaposed to the poor numbers that the Cain Velasquez/Junior dos Santos fight in Houston drew on PPV (a little over 300,000 buys). Despite all of the effort and all of the great fight performances, something has not clicked with the fans to want to back Cain in a big way. Personality has a lot to do with it.
The big concern is what happens in 2017 when the TV deal expires with Fox. Does UFC end up in a situation similar to WWE with NBC Universal where they have to take similar money or a slight pay raise due to the fact that the numbers have decreased over the years? The fact is, watered down shows even in prime time won’t draw good-enough ratings.
Regarding the problem UFC has making stars right now with so many shows going on, to paraphrase Dave:
“[Lawler/Brown] is a fantastic main event but it’s that whole thing when you have a low number of people watching the shows that make the stars. They become lesser stars.”
One of the problems pointed out by Jack Encarnacao is that there appears to be a caste system developing for UFC fighters. There are guys built as stars on the Fox platforms who remain stars on Fox platforms but don’t translate to PPV and the fighters who draw on PPV remain on PPV. Plus, the UFC has been boxed in by a ridiculous ranking system and now given how many shows are happening, a major focal point seems to be on “hey, watch this guy ranked at #6 versus this guy ranked at #7″ instead of taking the time to find the right kind of personality conflicts & pairings that allow for building up to great grudge matches. UFC is no longer a unique product.
Demetrious Johnson is a perfect example of UFC’s conundrum. He fought on Fox three times in 2013, had great fight performances, but nobody wants to pay to watch him on PPV. Will Daniel Cormier fall into the same trap even with the exposure he has on Fox platforms?
There has to be a breaking point if the status quo doesn’t change. Is it too late to reverse course?