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Las Vegas cooling off for UFC is becoming a pattern

By Zach Arnold | January 12, 2010

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From MMA Payout regarding the UFC 108 event on January 2nd — 8,004 paid for $1,969,670, 4,373 papered for $1,005,000.

UFC 106 = 6,631 paid/3,898 comped (63% paid, 37% comped)
UFC 108 = 8,004 paid/4,373 comped (65% paid, 35% comped)

UFC 106 = value of each paid ticket was $450, value of each comp ticket was $600
UFC 108 = value of each paid ticket was $246, value of each comp ticket was $230

Let’s flashback to the UFC 106 numbers last November in LV:

What’s striking about that number is that Dana White gave out the 10,529 number at the post-fight press conference and given the $3 million gate, it made some sense that the paid number would be a good portion of the overall attendance figure. However, 6,631 paid for a crowd size of 10,529 is the type of number that should be alarming as far as UFC shows in Las Vegas is concerned.

Even more disheartening about the MMA Junkie report is while the paid gate of $3 million is respectable, the face value of the comps was $2.3 million dollars. Simple math says that the value of each paid ticket was around $450 and the value of each comp ticket was close to $600.

The numbers are alarming for a couple of reasons. Look at the #’s — the value of tickets paid for at UFC 108 nearly matched the value of comp tickets given out in freebies. That’s a very bad equation to have as a promoter in a market. (Click on the Fight Opinion link from November for further meaning of the overall picture in Las Vegas.)

In short, Las Vegas is not only burned out by UFC events but the ability of the market to regenerate itself in interest is going to be challenging. Not insurmountable, but business looks ugly right now in town. And in the numbers up above, I didn’t even include the numbers from the December 5th show where Kimbo Slice vs. Houston Alexander struggled to get 1,300 paid.

You can’t really blame football or other sporting events for taking away market share from UFC. This situation is right on their shoulders and they need to figure out a solution so that 2010 doesn’t continue his ugly pattern. The February event headlined by Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman, however, shouldn’t ease those concerns any time soon.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 42 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

42 Responses to “Las Vegas cooling off for UFC is becoming a pattern”

  1. ttt says:

    is it not more of a problem of having a stretch of crappy shows and bad luck with injuries? it looks like things will pick up again after UFC 109

  2. David says:

    Very interesting article. Unless they can get really big overseas to help propel the brand, UFC (aka MMA) could be considered, for the next few years as a spectacle over a legitimate sport.

    Clearly, boxing is dying, and it is dying quickly. There need not be a fight for the sport to be a freakshow. Then again, like ttt commented, the stretch of really lame cards and injuries has really put the UFC in a bad spot.

    Who knows what the future will be. The WEC has amazing talent and really interesting matches. This most recent fight night was a damn bore, it was sluggish the whole time and the only fighter I wanted to see was Diaz and he didn’t deliver!

    I was very pleased with the performance of Evan Dunham, what a great competitor. Over n out.

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    This does not prove a cooling down. Each card has a very good reason for having bad numbers.

    UFC 106…. The ticket prices were set based on a co-main event featuring Brock Lesnar and Tito Ortiz. Once Lesnar was off the card, any unsold tickets were far beyond market value for a Tito Ortiz main event. Hence the lower ticket sales.

    UFC 108…. Was just not a high quality card. Too many injuries caused it to not even have a great main event when it was first announced for ticket sales.

    Now, with that said, they do have to reduce the number of Vegas shows slightly. Perhaps 4 big shows maximum per year. Having 3 bigger shows there in the course of about 3/4 months is a little insane.

    This dependence on Las Vegas should diminish in the up coming years. The opening of Vancouver is a big positive. So is Boston. New York could get passed in 2010, and that is another huge market.

    Really, the UFC has set the foundation for the next few years. They have established enough big markets (and are working on more), that they are not really dependent on one market (or one country).

    Think of it this way… Even if things cooled down in the United States, they could do 2 bigger shows in each of Australia, England, & Canada for a year. Combine that with 4 bigger Las Vegas shows, and they could easily find a few other markets to fill in the rest.

    If the last UFC Fight Night is any indication, they are still doing strong business, even on cards with no real superstars.

  4. Grape Knee High says:

    Here’s my take:

    1) Ticket prices are too high for what you get (more below).

    2) What do you get? Unlike the other big sports in the United States where you generally get a better, more encompassing view of the action, in the UFC because of the black cage, you get a far, far WORSE view of the action. Especially when the fighters are against the cage.

    Paying hundreds of dollars for a seat and then having to stare awkwardly at a big screen just to see parts of the fights doesn’t seem like a good value proposition to me.

    It’s fun to go, for sure, just for the energy but it’s not even close to going to an NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB game. Not even close, especially given that you can get decent seats for far, far less than at a UFC event.

  5. Alan Conceicao says:

    The key for the UFC and casinos is what their site fee is. As long as it stays high (and it likely will), they won’t be rushing to leave, papered houses or not. I agree that running more towns would be wise, but money talks.

  6. Nepal says:

    Zach, although you paint a picture that seems concerning I really wonder what the comparison’s would be to previous UFC events in Vegas for comp and paid tickets over the past couple of years? That info is needed to see a trend and for us to recognize whether what you have stated is meaningful.

    Also are these numbers still very successful numbers for the UFC from a profitability standpoint? If so, then this model is ok. More is better but if the profit dollars are still going up then it’s ok.

    Dana has stated 2009 grew 20% over 2008, which if true is tremendous growth.

    As another poster mentioned, there are a lot of other huge markets coming on line, which will reduce the need for as many Vegas shows. Vancouver will be huge, Montreal always is, when Toronto hits it’ll be the biggest market period. Boston should be big, New York should rival or surpass Toronto. Int’l locals like Sydney sold out in a Montreal-like pace. I’ll bet by the end of this year, we’ll have had huge events in all 6 of those cities. Huge even if the card quality isn’t the best.

    They should add in the BW and FW divisions into the UFC. Aldo/Faber is worthy of main event status. Torres and Bowles would also help.

    Overall, I’ll bet 2010 brings another 20%+ growth over 2009 even without the help of any improved economy.

  7. Steve4192 says:

    I haven’t read the comments yet so someone might have already mentioned this, but I think less of an indication of waning interest in the UFC and more of an indication of the recent weakness in the Las Vegas tourism business.

    The UFC doesn’t sell tickets to Vegas residents. They sell them to tourists. And Vegas tourism is at an all-time low.

  8. jr says:

    The UFC’s “killing the town” as they say in wrestling.

  9. Jeff says:

    What a revelation. People don’t want to pay $100+ to see shallow cards.

  10. Manapua says:

    UFC has too many damn shows for it’s own good and does not have the talent to fill them with quality. Plus they are building new stars either.

  11. Zack says:

    The extensive papering is an insult to ticket buying fans too. Who wants to pay inflated ticket prices when 1/3 of the building is going to get in for free?

  12. Manapua says:

    I meant to say they are NOT building new stars. They have so many shows it almost makes who wins in each show irrelevant. There is no anticipation or buildup of fights.

  13. Alan Conceicao says:

    This is a real sport: Stars are built not by having 5 star matches or something. They’re made by winning championships and beating other stars. Right now, GSP, Anderson Silva, and BJ Penn are very difficult to beat, so its tough to build new stars in those divisions. In time, new fighters will emerge and become stars. They can’t force it.

  14. GB says:

    Do they comp as many tickets for their events outside of Vegas? I’m asking because whenever I’ve tried to buy tickets to their East Coast events (once in Philly, twice in New Jersey) I’ve been unable to get cheap tickets through Ticketmaster. They always sell out in a matter of minutes and I’m forced to buy extra-expensive resold tickets through StubHub.

    BTW, it’d be interesting if someone did a story on the UFC-StubHub partnership and how StubHub manages to buy so many tickets it’s very difficult for fans (including Fight Club members) to acquire theirs.

  15. Alan Conceicao says:

    A ton of tickets for Machida/Shogun and Couture/Noguiera were freebies. The argument there was that LA was a bad fight town and they overpriced for Portland.

  16. Joseph says:

    The UFC has been averaging about 3-4K comped tickets for a while now.

  17. Mike says:

    “The extensive papering is an insult to ticket buying fans too. Who wants to pay inflated ticket prices when 1/3 of the building is going to get in for free?”

    Couldn’t agree more. As someone who goes to multiple cards and pays for tickets, it really pisses me off that 1/3 of the people infront of me, in better seats than me, have got their tickets for free… especially when most of them could afford tickets if they wanted to anyway – giving out 2,000 tickets to people off twitter just because they have time to hang around all day is a slap in the face to people who’ve worked for and paid for their tickets.

  18. Manapua says:

    Alan stars are built by being brought along properly and being given the right fights to bring them along while they improve and become more seasoned. The UFC does not do this and thus kills off a lot of guys with potential before it is realized. UFC needs a good stable of journeyman bums per weightclass.

  19. Alan Conceicao says:

    Alan stars are built by being brought along properly and being given the right fights to bring them along while they improve and become more seasoned. The UFC does not do this and thus kills off a lot of guys with potential before it is realized. UFC needs a good stable of journeyman bums per weightclass.

    They have plenty of them and have shown a willingness to bring some in if need be. And its paid off: Whatever Amir learned in struggling with Phil Baroni paid off against Blackburn, for instance. Sometimes they pick cans that end up being too much for their guys: I guarantee you they didn’t expect Kos to lose to Thiago, Dos Santos to beat Werdum, or Efrain to have the arm breaking scare Monday. But that’s part of the process. I’m happier with that and having fighters that are built up taking tough fights rather than having guys plow through creme puffs and get a title shot.

  20. JJ says:

    Likely reasons.

    1. Injuries: 4 out of 5 champs were injuried on top of all other fighters that pulled out of fights over injuries.
    2. Bad economy: Isn’t Vegas having one of it’s worst years ever?
    3. PPV: The UFC is okay giving away tickets because PPV will make so they still make money.
    UFC doesn’t lose money giving away tickets. They just don’t make as much as they could have made.

  21. Steve4192 says:

    ALan and I haven’t seen eye to eye much lately, but I completely agree with his take on building up prospects.

    I hate it when promotions give a guy creampuff after creampuff and expect fans to buy into the hype. I much prefer the UFC model of giving guys challenging but winnable fights. Even in the rare instances where the guy brought in to lose foils their plan, they can just switch gears and promote the new guy.

    Junior Dos Santos is the perfect example. He was brought in as a sacrificial lamb for Werdum and wound up being the real deal. Now, Zuffa has younger, more exciting prospect who earns about one-quarter of the salary that Werdum pulls down. That upset was a win-win for Zuffa, even though it looked like a disaster at the time.

  22. Manapua says:

    Who are UFC’s new stars? What fights do they have that we really want to see that they have not done already? They have too many shows and not enough talent. The sport does not have talent for that matter. If Dream, WEC and Strikeforce did not exist the sport might have enough talent for the UFC.

  23. Alan Conceicao says:

    Who are UFC’s new stars?

    They have potential rising stars in Carwin, Velasquez, Maynard, Hardy, Marqhardt, Shogun, and Aldo. They need to win big fights to become stars though. This is the same problem pro wrestling people have with boxing: You can’t create new superstars every 12 months at a whim. Its an organic process. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will probably be boxing for the next 5 years each while guys like Paul Williams, Kelly Pavlik, Andre Berto, and so on continue to make their names and establish themselves. Way of the world. Right now the UFC has a large number of legitimate stars it can hold itself steady on at the very least.

    What fights do they have that we really want to see that they have not done already?

    You don’t want to see Lesnar defend his title once? You don’t want to see if Penn, GSP, or Silva rise to new challenges outside their weight class? You don’t want to see how the fractured 205lb weight class goes in the next 12 months? You might be bitter if that’s the case.

  24. 45 Huddle says:

    Cain and Jones are the next two big ones, but they have to win to get there. They made Machida into a star in 2009. He went from a contender to beating Silva and Evans…. His last few PPV’s did better then expected numbers. BJ Penn was already a champion, but he had a breakout year in 2009, having all 3 of his PPV’s break the 500,000 mark. How did they do this? A combination of UFC Primetime and

    Star power isn’t exactly high on the list of the UFC’s issues lately. They have always based most of their drawing power on their champions. Which makes it’s easier since they don’t have to get behind a single fighter like EliteXC did with Carano & Kimbo… Or Strikeforce is doing with Fedor and Henderson.

    And if Belfort can somehow beat Silva, he is an instant star again to a whole new crop of fans. They continune to build their talent properly. If Jon Jones ever becomes champion, he will have been seen on free TV like 3 times first. Not to mention likely a co-headline on a PPV before he gets his shot. The UFC does a great job at structuring the rise of these fighters properly.

  25. Alan Conceicao says:

    And if Belfort can somehow beat Silva, he is an instant star again to a whole new crop of fans. They continune to build their talent properly. If Jon Jones ever becomes champion, he will have been seen on free TV like 3 times first. Not to mention likely a co-headline on a PPV before he gets his shot. The UFC does a great job at structuring the rise of these fighters properly.

    They do a better job with some than others. Carwin should have gotten more TV time off PPV (where you limit the audience) before they booked Lesnar/Carwin, but that became meaningless. Jones is a great example of a guy they’re throwing a lot into. Kenny Florian: Another great example. The majority of his career are free TV fights. When he was on PPV, it was in highlighted bouts on PPVs with big headliners.

    The stars will create themselves if they’re good enough and given opportunities. Building around personalities or the ability to interview well is stupid.

  26. Ultimo Santa says:

    Another way to make a star?

    Let your 47-year-old veteran win by decision over a guy who clearly beat him.

    Then, have him fight ANOTHER 47-year-old guy on PPV, and say the winner deserves a Light Heavyweight Title shot…

    …against a champion who himself retained the title in a fix.

    Man, the UFC’s booking is getting complicated. It’s like WCW circa 1998 all over again.

  27. 45 Huddle says:

    So you think Machida/Rua was a fix? If it was fixed, then Dana White wouldn’t have been so mad at the decision….

  28. Ultimo Santa says:

    I was of course being facetious.

    It was likely just gross ignorance and incompetence on the part of the judges.

    But the result – coupled with the Couture debacle – was enough to turn me off the UFC for a good long while. I won’t be forking out any PPV dollars until they get their crap together.

    Especially when I can pay $6 a month and get K-1, Dream and Sengoku on HDNet every month, as well as free UFC and Strikeforce cards on TV.

    If Couture/Coleman are fighting a #1 Contenders Match to see who gets Machida, then I don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel for UFC’s current path.

  29. 45 Huddle says:

    So bad judges appointed by the athletic comission has turned you off to the UFC?

    And yet you still talk about watching DREAM and Sengoku who have far worse ref and judging issues?

    Okay there buddy….

    And has Dana White ever said the winner of Couture/Coleman is getting a title shot?

  30. Ultimo Santa says:

    I still watch the UFC on free TV, but “bang for the buck”, $6 for exciting HDNet fights is better than $60 for the UFC snoozefests, especially considering their matchmaking lately.

    FAR WORSE judging issues? LOL

    If anything, UFC’s wackiness in late 2009 rivals anything that has gone on in Japan.

    At least the commentators on HDNet joke about their strange judging criteria – Goldberg and Rogan pretend that their judging is on the level and perfectly accurate.

    I believe it was alluded to in the Couture/Rogan interview on Monday night that yes, the winner of Couture/Coleman could potentially get a LHW title shot.


    Maybe the winner of THAT fight can battle Dan Severn?

  31. The Gaijin says:

    “The total attendance for UFC 108 was a heavily papered 12,377 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The place wasn’t sold out, and there was a curtain up over the upper level on one side of the arena, the first time I’ve ever seen curtains used for a major UFC event. Paid was 8,004, with a gate of $1,969,670. It should be noted that a lot of that paid was casino buys, noting that the MGM Grand had purchased a large block of tickets (which is common practice for big UFC events) and were giving two tickets away to anyone who booked a room in the hotel that weekend.

    Current trending patterns for UFC 108 are at this point looking like ***255,000 to 270,000 buys***, which if those numbers end up accurate, would be the lowest for a North American show in several years.” (source: Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter)

    Spit take…wow…that’s surprisingly low.

    I await mmalogic’s new MSPaint chart, forcasting/modelling analysis and spin explanation on these numbers. Even based on his shitty, flawed and biased analysis – this is slowed momentum.

    Hopefully this is a wake-up call to settle down on the events and not try to push cards like these on fans based on the brand name only.

  32. 45 Huddle says:

    This buyrate is good news. And no, that is not a pro UFC spin job. That is a pro fan perspective.

    They need to stop doing two PPV’s a month. They need to stick to 12 PPV’s a year maximum. And if a card falls through, they have to be willing to change it to free TV. They have TWO television outlets now in SpikeTV and Versus. A card like UFC 108 had no business on PPV. Even a pro UFC guy such as myself didn’t buy it.

  33. Alan Conceicao says:

    UFC fans need to have a decent card to be interested? Get out of town. And all this time I kept hearing the brand sold 1.6 million PPVs for UFC 100!

  34. Fluyid says:

    “They need to stick to 12 PPV’s a year maximum.”

    I fully agree. I’d hope for 10 PPV’s a year, but 12 is good as well. It would actually make a PPV seem like something to look forward to again.

  35. Alan Conceicao says:

    The numbers are going to have to be a lot worse than this to dissuade them from doing PPVs. Like, UFCs will probably have to dip into the 50,000s before that happens.

  36. Fluyid says:

    I know, I know. I’m just stating what I’d like. I would also like a few million bucks to fall my way and that ain’t gonna happen either.

  37. JJ says:

    UFC 107 does 600,000+

    UFC 108 does 250,000 – 270,000 and the sky is falling? haha.

    UFC 109 will do low numbers also. “OMG Proof that the UFC has peaked and is on the way down.” UFC 109 is the last card affected by the freak amount of injuries.

    UFC 110 will be the first card to benefit from the injuries.

    Take a breath. Chill. The PPV numbers are going to be good from UFC 110 on.

  38. EJ says:

    Yeah you have to love the double standard when it comes to the UFC, a show with almost no draw, tons of injuries and no hype did 2 mill at the gate and around 300k buys on ppv.

    Poor UFC how can they ever make money by doing such poor numbers, what a joke this is the reason I can’t take some people seriously.

    There seems to be no context to anything just people spitting out their hate and bias against the UFC while propping up their competition which no one knows how they are able to pay for all those fighters while not making ppv profits.

  39. Alan Conceicao says:

    I don’t know why its assumed that UFC 110 will do particularly well as a PPV. Who on that card has drawn PPV buys on their own?

    As for the “double standard”, by the standards set for themselves, the numbers were very low. Was it a financial success? Sure, which is why they will keep on booking PPVs without fights in the future. Does it being financially successful mean it was a good show? Sure, as much as it means that N’Sync’s No Strings Attached was the best studio record of the last ten years, which is to say its a logical fallacy.

  40. Jimmy says:

    Ticket prices are way too high and weak cards have not helped. Did they make another genius move by selling 10% of UFC to make up for this?

  41. EJ says:

    “Does it being financially successful mean it was a good show?”

    No, but the fact is it was a good show with good fighst and it was financially successful on top of that.

    Not much more you can ask for of a show destroyed by injuries and bashed by hardcores.

  42. Alan Conceicao says:

    As I’ve said a million times before: “good show” and “good fights” are a pretty subjective criteria, and if you want to care about something strongly enough, you can make yourself do so. All I know is that if you put a comparable PPV on for boxing and had similar results to the fights, it would be eaten alive as a utter failure of the sport and proof of boxing’s irrelevancy and self destructive behavior.

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