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A new report’s claim of median age of 49 for UFC viewers is flawed but potentially good news

By Zach Arnold | June 7, 2017

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Sports Business Journal did a recent Nielsen ratings review since the year 2000 on the changing demographics for sports fans watching TV. The top-level headlines are depressing for UFC (median age 49) and WWE (median age 54) but the substantive results reveal some positive notes.

First, the data review is largely about conventional TV. The WWE Network is all about streaming. That’s a young demographic. The sky is not falling for WWE on the technology front. It’s falling on the matchmaking front, which is atrocious but fungible.

Second, no one who understands or follows the combat sports industry actually believes that the median age of a UFC viewer is 49 years old. Maybe for boxing, but not MMA. Boxing’s reputation of an older demographic that spends more money than UFC is wholly justified and I still think there’s great hope for boxing’s long term success as a TV product. Ask any casino what kind of live show they would rather have to attract gambling and every one will tell you boxing for good reason. UFC draws a younger audience with not as much cash to burn.

UFC is a product with a safe floor of viewership but a very hard glass ceiling. It’s the classic cable/internet play. What works and drives traffic on those platforms doesn’t play on network television. The big question is how safe their viewership floor remains given how volatile matchmaking has become under Ari Emanuel’s ownership.

WWE ratings have plummeted on cable. Their internet business is doing well. They still need a cable footprint to act as advertising for the online venture. I’m not worried about them.

What happened to the value of the 18-to-34 year old demographic?

As usual, the SBJ article touts soccer and basketball as the future kings of sports because they have younger demographics… except for the fact that those “young” demos are still in the early 40s.

Viewership for television programming is aging. That’s why the 18-to-34 year old demographic is fool’s gold. American network news broadcasts discovered this phenomenon long ago and everyone else is catching up. It’s why you see a proliferation of Viagra and Cialis advertising. TV viewers actually buy those products.

Fox Sports point man Michael Mulvihill recently admitted that he is reconsidering the value of the 18-to-34 year old demographic for sports fans. He has to. If the youngest sports fans for conventional TV are above age 40, then 35-to-49 becomes your desirable demographic. That’s right in UFC’s wheelhouse.

Additionally, the new study conducted by SBJ delivers the confirmation bias on “time poverty” and how that plays well for UFC. Every TV program is now subject to a zero-sum game. People watch five hours of TV programming a day. Either your program attracts you or it doesn’t. No second chances. Feast or famine. Sports programming is no longer competing with other sports programming — it’s competing with all television programming. The value of a five round UFC title fight has great desirability because it fits into a 30 minute TV block. A soccer game fits tight in a two hour TV block.

The time issue is about millennial viewership habits. They have the shorter attention spans and embrace new technology for media platforms. Fox Sports wouldn’t be focused on UFC’s value for “time poverty” if the median age of viewership was 49 years old.

The question is what exactly is the value of time poverty? Baseball games are over three hours. College football and NFL games are well over three hours long and creeping into four hour territory. And yet those sports remain kings while the NBA’s contract with ESPN is choking that network out like a python on its finances. Will the NBA be able to command the same price tag next decade?

Bottom line: All of these data points are interesting.. but is it useful? Is it concrete? Does it matter? Is there a true reading of the tea leaves? The more TV data I see, the more I feel that decisions are being made on a paralysis-by-analysis basis. PPV is not dead and it’s not dying any time soon. The cable companies are surviving by turning from content distributors to pipeline distributors (internet) with huge profit margins. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, UFC, WWE, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

2 Responses to “A new report’s claim of median age of 49 for UFC viewers is flawed but potentially good news”

  1. Diaz's packed bowl says:

    “…”

  2. T. Gumm says:

    So never mind the actual numbers, we know the demos are different? Really? So why don’t the demos show that?

    According to SBJ, the audience for boxing has stayed about the same age, while UFC has aged up. Makes sense; boxing is much stronger in Hispanic and African American demos, which are significantly younger than UFC’s mainly white demo. Conventional wisdom is often wrong, as it is regarding boxing.

    The numbers are what the numbers are. UFC’s audience is aging. Quickly and comprehensively. And other anecdotal evidence supports that: plummeting TV ratings for UFC on FOX and TUF, a PPV dry spell, and no new stars to speak of.

    That doesn’t mean the sky is falling, but you can’t dismiss the numbers entirely by saying you just don’t believe them.

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