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Smoogy After Dark: Fixing the UFC Machine

By Zach Arnold | October 9, 2012

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Smoogy says:

“It seems like every MMA writer I read has wrote about or alluded to a down turn or at least “struggles” for UFC, but nothing really specific. Most cite TV ratings and some have noticed the poor gates recently, but it’s hard to analyze the root causes without being an Armchair Dana. I’m going to try to break it down in simple terms. You know how people refer to “The UFC Machine(tm)”? Well, the UFC Machine is busted now.

“There was a clear and simple logic to the early days of the UFC boom. But the UFC Machine hasnt been maintained to cope as UFC scales bigger. In 2005-2007, it was easy. TUF launched the breakout PPV and the cast became the main event class for the Fight Nights that launched TUF. In that ecosystem on Spike UFC had a perfect fit. TUF was exactly what they needed to relaunch Couture, Liddell, Hughes etc. as PPV sellers. With everything on one channel, each program drafted off the other. Or if you prefer ball sports analogies, they worked like a 3 man weave. PPV was and remains the key to UFC’s strategy. But it’s the well-integrated TV programming that makes the PPV stars. AKA The UFC Machine. Of course it takes more than just putting fighters on TV. UFC scouted and found transcendent talents who were carefully brought up as stars. That’s the first, and hardest way to make a PPV star. And being on TUF wasn’t a prerequisite, but obviously boosted stars like (Anderson) Silva BJ Penn and GSP.

“UFC has also historically relied on another, easier method: bring in fighters who attract an outside audience from another sport (Lesnar) … or an outsized personality with “Youtube appeal” (Kimbo Slice) or a combination of both qualities (Mirko Cro Cop). Bit of an aside to my main point, but UFC has always relied on interlopers from outside orgs (PRIDE, IFL, Affliction, SF) to fill out PPVs. With Showtime guarding what talent UFC left behind in the first raid, and Bellator doing ok, those supplemental, co-main types are scarce.

“Anyway, with the key components of the UFC Machine during the glory years established, it becomes easier to see why it doesn’t work well now. TUF is the easy target. It’s gone from watershed event, to steady platform for PPV grudges/fresh talent, to a semen-covered laughing stock. “Oversaturation” is another favorite boogie man, but it’s a real thing too. You’d think more TV time is inherently good, but not necessarily. Besides the obvious lack of urgency to see every show (“picking & choosing”) it shrinks the impact & window of things each event can promote.

“UFC was struggling to adapt The Machine to the growing scale of the business before Fox. The switch over has really only exasperated things. The UFC Machine was already overtaxed, then they disassembled it and reassembled parts in 3 different places… Now instead of just a wealth of options, there are dizzying amounts of filler shows with index card quality titles “UFC Event on Fuel TV 37.” Dana’s thesis of 2 dudes scrappin on a street corner has been extrapolated to the breaking point, an endless wave of interchangeable scraps.

“How the hell do you fix it?

“On the upside, FOX during NFL season could create new stars at any moment. It’s a great platform. But current FX/Fuel situation is untenable. UFC on FX is a bastard in a basket type deal, & Fuel might not exist in a year (Speed is favored for a reformat & could inherit UFC). They have to make it work though. So, how can UFC tie together their jumble of TV events better so the UFC Machine starts working again? I think there needs to be a common thematic thread to connect events. Strikeforce’s WGP was a ratings success for example. With UFC’s massive roster and slate of events, I’d do away with the “on FX 5” stuff and have a UFC “regular season” of sorts. Some kind of points system that leads to championship tournaments at year end could be really dramatic (and make cuts a lot simpler). A persistent, annual measure of how a fighter is performing would really help viewers keep track of what’s going on in the UFC.”

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 45 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

45 Responses to “Smoogy After Dark: Fixing the UFC Machine”

  1. Roger says:

    you could have saved all that and just said “move off of friday nights and get fuel into more homes”. we like to overcomplicate things but it really is that simple.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      And a constant time slot EVERY week. Say for example a weekly 2 hour time slot from 9 to 11 on either FX or FOX Sports. No more of this trying to figure out what time and what channel they are on.

      I don’t even care if their European Shows are tape delayed to make this happen. Heck, they got more viewers for the primetime showing of their latest Fuel TV card, so showing shows live in the afternoon is pointless….

  2. Alan Conceicao says:

    There’s a million things that could be done differently and probably have a positive effect. They have a tough time building stars because the ethos of the company is to constantly put guys in tough fights against people with little name awareness. There’s no structure, no rankings, no way to determine for the average fan what is relevant. They throw tiny guys in giant cages and can’t figure out why fans boo them for being small. Because they’re dead set on making #1 contender fights even if no one cares, title belts at several weight classes have passed around like hot potato. There’s been 7 light heavyweight champs since 2007. That means no consistency, and that’s vital to create stars. The UFC doesn’t care about building contenders properly, so they don’t sell when given title shots. They seem to have figured that out by not throwing Weidman in there with Silva, but that has more to do with Anderson and his management than anything. No one watches Fuel, no one has Fuel, and being on Fuel is just as good as not being on TV at all from a promotional standpoint. Their primary TV offering on a far superior network (FX) is mired in a mediocre time slot. Of course, that is deserved, because TUF is pure garbage, totally exposed as worthless TV, and a total waste of everyone’s time. Instead of using that time to build up fighters that are good, they’re promoting the prelim fighters of next year and a fight between two gatekeeper heavyweights, which is abject stupidity.

    That’s just off the top of the dome.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      White needs to stop crapping on his own fighters. He hurts the overall health of the UFC when he talks about fighters turning down opponents. Unless there is an epic duck job going on… the fans should not be included in that topic….

    • smoogy says:

      I agree with pretty much all of that.

  3. The Judge says:

    I feel like the article ignores some facts:

    1. Every hobby, even NFL and pop music, experiences upswings in popularity that DO NOT LAST FOREVER. Rather than blaming any sort of recent UFC shortcomings as far as decision-making and luck, maybe it would be smarter to acknowledge that MMA had a nice 7-year boom that had to end at some point. It made a major step up and will never return to its late-90s no PPV level, in fact, it probably definitely seized one of the top spots of popularity in sports fans’ hearts, but it is still also just a fad, a new arrival on the block, and a lot of its popularity went with that.

    2. Expand your major cards from 12 good ones a year to 18+ mediocre ones and you will get the corresponding results. I am not sure as to whether this actually means a downturn in overall revenue. If I sell 50 items at a somewhat lower profit margin I will probably make a lot more money than if I sell 5 items at a higher.

    3. TUF finale did not launch Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Matt Hughes. They were main-eventing the PPVs for four years prior to that and in fact, it can be said that within a year all 3 would be in the declining stage of their career. Where I think is important is as far as acknowledging that TUF did not start the MMA boom, it only took it to the next level. Griffin-Bonnar and the entire preceeding season made for a nice focal point, probably attracted more casual fans, but it is not what made UFC popular, UFC in and of itself was (is) a very appealing product.

    4. Bringing in one wrestling star and one YouTube celeb does not a pattern make. Neither Herschel Walker nor Bobby Lashley were offered UFC contracts. And the only members of other promotion that can be said were brought over to star would be Rampage, Cro Cop and Nogs. PRIDE guys, not really a pattern of transferring stars from smaller US promotion.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      Rather than blaming any sort of recent UFC shortcomings as far as decision-making and luck, maybe it would be smarter to acknowledge that MMA had a nice 7-year boom that had to end at some point.

      There’s no question that’s true. The ability for the UFC to stabilize and stop the bleeding depends on them changing important aspects of their business model, reinventing themselves, staying fresh to the public, etc etc etc.

      TUF finale did not launch Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Matt Hughes. They were main-eventing the PPVs for four years prior to that and in fact, it can be said that within a year all 3 would be in the declining stage of their career. Where I think is important is as far as acknowledging that TUF did not start the MMA boom, it only took it to the next level.

      I disagree. There was no significant post UFC 40 bounce to buyrates. Liddell, as you state, would have been entering a point in his career where he was declining precipitously. Add in the fact that it was the UFC’s success that allowed them to raid PRIDE for talent and basically bury any chance of any Japanese company coming in and acting as a true competitor, and they likely wouldn’t have been able to find a real successor and star to Liddell minus TUF.

      Bringing in one wrestling star and one YouTube celeb does not a pattern make. Neither Herschel Walker nor Bobby Lashley were offered UFC contracts.

      James Toney, of course, was. My understanding as far as Lashley goes is that his management was consistently looking to get him a money fight in the UFC by fighting scrubs outside of it. Losing to Chad Griggs in Strikeforce obviously brought an end to that, and it is easy to forget that Griggs was a highly inactive heavyweight/IFL washout brought in to lose. There was no interest from Lashley’s management unless they walked into a title shot.

      • The Judge says:

        Where we differ is I think that the bleed so far has roughly been what you would expect from a post-boom decline. Undoubtedly, PPV oversaturation has played a role as well as the presence of what I call faberweights (no knock on Urijah who I like)–fighters not big enough to put on a show fans want to see, but I don’t think there is a need for UFC to make drastic changes. Using a scale analogy, the boom has knocked UFC from a 2 to a 6 on a 7-point scale and now it’s settling into a more reasonable 5, which is what it can expect from now on.
        Unlike a lot of other fads, UFC, I feel, presents a genuinely appealing, interesting quality product. Unlike other shows, which often gain popularity purely as a novelty act and go away almost completely after a few years, UFC has a large, functioning niche and will retain a large share of the popularity it gained from its exposure.

        No, but there was an upturn for UFCs 40, 44, 46, 47, which I think goes to support my statement that the rise of Liddell and Couture did not start with TUF–they were already big draws and bigger draws than their colleagues. Hughes I misspoke on–it does seem like he wasn’t drawing until UFC 56, which is post TUF.

        “Add in the fact that it was the UFC’s success that allowed them to raid PRIDE for talent and basically bury any chance of any Japanese company coming in and acting as a true competitor, and they likely wouldn’t have been able to find a real successor and star to Liddell minus TUF.”

        I think it was on the opposite collapse of PRIDE as well as the absence of a well-financed reputable Japanese alternative that enabled UFC to sign a few PRIDE stars, but honestly, so few fighters have made that transition that I think little of UFC’s success can be contributed to that. And the biggest successors to Liddell would be Silva, Lesnar, St Pierre, Jones. None of these are TUF-created, most you can say is that TUF boom has contributed to the new stars getting noticed.

        You know, I completely blurred the Toney thing out of my mind. And I think that you are proving my point, had UFC been interested in grabbing at any potential celebrity act draw, they would have signed Lashley, had him co-main event against somebody Griggs-level and then continue to milk that cow by slowly moving him up the ladder as long as it lasted.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          No, but there was an upturn for UFCs 40, 44, 46, 47, which I think goes to support my statement that the rise of Liddell and Couture did not start with TUF–they were already big draws and bigger draws than their colleagues. Hughes I misspoke on–it does seem like he wasn’t drawing until UFC 56, which is post TUF.

          The light heavyweights were the marquee fighters in the UFC of yore and have really been the keystone of the sport internationally since even before Sakuraba got a bouquet of flowers from Tito. Even today, they’re argurably the most important division in the sport with the most guys capable of supporting roles or headlining random PPVs.

          I think it was on the opposite collapse of PRIDE as well as the absence of a well-financed reputable Japanese alternative that enabled UFC to sign a few PRIDE stars, but honestly, so few fighters have made that transition that I think little of UFC’s success can be contributed to that.

          “PRIDE guys couldn’t compete” is one of the worst memes in the universe. Anderson Silva is still middleweight champion. Still in contention in light heavyweight: Dan Henderson, Antonio Rogerio Noguiera, Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua. Wanderlei Silva just headlined a PPV (albiet a horrible one). Alistar Overeem is a top heavyweight contender, as is Werdum. Not everyone transitioned, yeah. Some guys got old, some guys were exposed as being poorly prepared for the UFC, some guys outmoded by better competition. Even the great BJ Penn even took Ls and disappeared from the lightweight division (to say nothing of literally every other top lightweight of the era), apparently destined for what he was always meant for: welterweight/middleweight gatekeeper status and a healthy diet of snack cakes.

          Look, if PRIDE hadn’t ended up in financial trouble from the loss of TV money, they still wouldn’t have been able to compete with the UFC’s PPV income. They just weren’t close to one another. Remember that Cro-Cop was very vocal that the UFC was paying him much better than he had been with PRIDE. Now, erase those big PPV gains and the story is a bit different. More than likely PRIDE gets absorbed in some way like it did by K-1, but much more immediately, no big death show, and probably retaining the services of most of the stars (Fedor, Wanderlei, Sakuraba, etc).

          You know, I completely blurred the Toney thing out of my mind. And I think that you are proving my point, had UFC been interested in grabbing at any potential celebrity act draw, they would have signed Lashley, had him co-main event against somebody Griggs-level and then continue to milk that cow by slowly moving him up the ladder as long as it lasted.

          They pick and choose their spots when it comes to freaks. Lashley wasn’t someone they thought could carry them anywhere, I don’t think, and I also think that giving him (or Lesnar) soft touches was something that in their mind would be bad for the reputation of the promotion. Strikeforce was more willing, of course, which given their MO over the years was hardly surprising.

    • smoogy says:

      TUF didn’t launch Couture and Liddell as bankable PPV stars? Come on now. Look at how their first fight performed, then compare that with the rematch.

      • The Judge says:

        Couture, Liddell, Ortiz and Shamrock cards continuously draw roughly double their neighbors over the duration of second half of 2003 and 2004. What’s more, 2004 cards roughly double the 2003 in buyrates. I am not denying the impact of TUF, but the sport was already well on its way up as were those stars.

  4. ULTMMA says:

    Agree with Judge’s point one- curious how the UFC/MMA’s boom period and now post boom (Here Comes the Boom) compares to other sports i.e skate boarding, the MLS when it first started, can’t thing of a third sport off the top of my head.

    Do NASCAR fans freak about its growth? Very far from a racing fan but if I recall NASCAR blew up-got deal with FOX-kind of evened out ratings wise (still great numbers but growth leveled off) than in 2004 they pulled an Ace card with the Race for the chase/Chase for the Sprint Cup their postseason

    Love to hear a knowledgeable racing fans take on NASCAR vs UFC/MMA boom

    Like Smoogy mentioned in his final point, feel like the UFC needs a major shake up/ pull a rabbit out of their hat if they want to put up big boy TV numbers and expand their brand domestically.

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      NASCAR had a strong regional fanbase and understood well the aesthetic it was appealing to nationally. The growth took off like a rocket with the new TV deals that went into effect in 2001, but had really been getting cultivated by sponsorship activation from the mid 1970s onward. Lots of money fueling the machine came from something that couldn’t advertise anywhere else at all (cigarettes). Population shift to the south and the countryfication of the pop charts happened in tandem with NASCAR’s success – not saying it was because of NASCAR but it certainly helped NASCAR. NASCAR also has keenly worked very hard to try and diversify their brands, run international events/series, offer different products, run opposition out of the market and swallow them, etc etc etc.

      Structurally they are very different. The series owns half the venues in a shell game of corporate names. The stars are the drivers, who are not contracted to NASCAR but to teams and sponsors. NASCAR operates as a sanctioning body under FIA satellite ACCUS to operate smaller feeder series and racing styles at a vast variety of independent short tracks run by small time promoters, something the UFC would never ever consider doing, and actively promotes that with the “Home Track” marketing campaign.

  5. The Gaijin says:

    Totally off topic – but I think I want to add Frank Mir vs. Antonio Silva to the list of HW fights I’d like to see if and when they figure out what is going on with the HW division and SF consolidation.

    As for the business thing, I think the UFC has an issue with needing to expand their executive team now that they’ve grown at such a huge rate. It was one thing for them to have Dana doing 90% of things as the President with Lorenzo doing a whole lot more behind the scenes, but it seems like Dana trying to continue to do 90% of things with a company that is 1000% larger is just not going to cut it.

    The Nascar analogy is a little off as they experienced their growth on a national scale since around the mid-1980s on ESPN of all places(and were around since the late 1940s) with large jump in growth from the mid-90s to early-2000s. So they experienced their growth over a much more sustained period and have continued to adjust their strategy as required (the Chase continues to be tweaked and refined) and to respond to fans whereas Zuffa’s answer to regression in growth and fan complaints/apathy seems to be “if you don’t like it, don’t watch! You’re not the fans we want anyways!”

    Not to mention, NASCAR makes about $3B annually and has a TV contract in the neighbourhood of $600M/year. And they have actively sought to diversify and expand their demographics while UFC seems more than content to cater to the same demographic they always have. NASCAR has a surprisingly high African American and female fanbase and their average fans income is also quite surprisingly high (along with their brand loyalty – team/sponsor/etc.).

    • Tommy says:

      Thanks for the great NASCAR info AC & TG. I remember back in 2006-2007 UFC is next NASCAR was trotted out a lot by PR and marketing workers. Comparison was off base then and with UFC entering its next phase, post FOX deal, the two sports brands are even more different five years later

  6. Jason Harris says:

    It’s funny that for a sport that was barely on PPV a few years ago, UFC being on 3 different cable TV networks is leading to a slew of “The sky is falling, here’s how UFC can stop the bleeding”

    Apparently UFC is supposed to keep growing exponentially forever. They did 1M PPV buys? Well anything less than 2M the next year is a failure!

    Also I find it funny that Alan is basically advocating that UFC adopt the boxing model of feeding guys scrubs to pad their records as a method of keeping things “Fresh”

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      Also I find it funny that Alan is basically advocating that UFC adopt the boxing model of feeding guys scrubs to pad their records as a method of keeping things “Fresh”

      They have in the past. Did you think Rory McDonald/Che Mills was intended to be a serious test of Rory’s skills? How about Zuffa hiring guys off the street to fight Zhang Tie Quan? Unfortunately they burned the fans to the point where they no longer believe the UFC is producing nothing but fire. If they had done a better job, they could have continued to get away with those kind of showcase contests like they had for years, but on a wider basis and probably done a better job building up title fights.

      • Jason Harris says:

        So on the same page you made a several paragraphs long argument that UFC is giving guys too hard of fights and it’s making fans not care, and also they are doing too many easy fights and it’s burnt the fans out that UFC can produce credible matches.

        So it’s doing two things that are the exact opposite of each other and both of them are wrong and bad. Gotcha!

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          So on the same page you made a several paragraphs long argument that UFC is giving guys too hard of fights and it’s making fans not care, and also they are doing too many easy fights and it’s burnt the fans out that UFC can produce credible matches.

          Did I say they were doing “too many easy fights”? No, I didn’t. I acknowledged their existence. They occasionally pick guys to feed glorified cans to. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens. I gave examples. Do you think the UFC would have been as well off if they threw Forrest Griffin to the wolves immediately after TUF? Probably not, right?

          Not everyone in the UFC is at the same level nor should be matched like they are. Ever since the Condit fight they’ve done a much better job with McDonald and now he’s in a position fighting a faded name that can make him a star. That’s the kind of buildup and development that should be happening quarterly, not once every 18 months. Taking a bunch of good fighters and putting them in endless round robins against one another where they trade wins and losses means nothing to the fans, like what has happened to the majority of contenders at deep weight classes such as lightweight or welterweight.

        • Jason Harris says:

          And the very existence of these very specific examples “burned the fans to the point where they no longer believe the UFC is producing nothing but fire”?

          Did they burn the fans by producing matches that aren’t fire, or are they not building title contenders by producing too many matches that ARE fire?

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          And the very existence of these very specific examples “burned the fans to the point where they no longer believe the UFC is producing nothing but fire”?

          There’s a difference between the exercise of building a prospect on the undercard of a major PPV, and of headlining major shows with fights like Shogun/Vera or running a PPV like UFC 147. Logically, if you have lots of TV time to use, you should be using it to create stars. Instead they bang square pegs into round holes by trying to force the creation of stars in the UFC via fights on networks no one watches (Versus, Fuel) and then jetting them straight PPV where they inevitably bring the “floor” down appreciably.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          Lets put this another way. If people believe that every time the UFC is on, they will get great fights, they will continue watching unabated. If people start to stop believing that because, lets say, youtube backyard legends and brain damaged old boxers end up being let in the octagon for high profile bouts, or because the UFC books blatant mismatches with name talent (like the one this weekend), that facade is stripped away, regardless of how true it was to begin with. It is an easy facade to start with when people were fresh and new to the sport. It is a difficult one to keep up as the begin to learn the sport’s intricacies and the newness of the spectacle that is cage fighting wears away. Then they need something else other than violence and the promise of brutal KOs and submissions to keep people there.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Boxing builds up their stars too much with fluff. The UFC buries their own talent too much with their matchmaking. I understand doing it to young fighters to see if they can compete against many styles. But with more established guys it almost seems like they want everybody to lose.

          Each could learn something from the other….

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          Yeah 45, there’s a place between 30-0 guys who have only fought cans and are looking to be cashed out and picking a few elite prospects and matching them up competently to get them experience and build their credibility with fans before trying to get them fights with division elite. For whatever reason they seem to get these guys losses before they start to do a better job of matching them. If Gustafsson was 16-0 instead of 15-1, imagine how much more discussion would be going on about his fight with Shogun.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          They tend to put big prospects against each other within their first few fights. They really shoukd be buikding these guys up to 4-0 or 5-0 in the UFC. If they arent showing their potential then throw them to the wolves. If they are then match them up with another big prospect in a #1 contender fight. And at that point you find out which one is the better prospect and the winner gets a title shot.

          Joe Silva’s matchmakibg keeps salaries down. That always seems to be their main goal. Really look at it. They always try to bury fighters to limit their paycheck….. but in the long run they have kept the company weaker because of it. It is short sightedness.

          There is no reason why they have 60+ fighters in some divisions without a single title challenger built up….

    • The Gaijin says:

      Well that’s a “fresh” re-write of history given that they’ve been a player on PPV since about 2005 – so a few years ago =/= over 7 years ago. No one is asking them to have 2M ppv buys and then 3M or they’re a failure [pisspoor strawman btw] – but the thought is that, oh I dunno, maybe your baseline audience that used to be 350k (based on mmalogic’s ‘awesome’ charts iirc) could be preserved as your company’s profile/network status was supposed to be growing rather than crashed through to the point that 450k is seen as a big success.

      I love the attempts to brush off the argument by sarcastically screaming “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” URARGUMNTZRINV@L1D! – everyone loves looking at numbers, growth and stats and the truth is that they’ve been regressing in ppv numbers and attendance (PPVs over the last two years and attendance is very apparent on their returns to almost all previously strong markets). The FOX deal was supposed to take them to the next level and usher them into big time…it hasn’t…and it’s a big reason why people are questioning wtf is going on with their growth and expansion and ultimately their plans for the future.

      What do you have to offer in return other than yelling “LOL – the Sky is falling!”?

      That they went on network tv and outside of their initial show pulled lower ratings than Elite XC and Strikeforce? That NO ONE watches their fights on Fuel TV (it’s barely a cable tv network)? That their flagship TUF which used to create stars, promote big PPVs and get ratings isn’t about booze, jizz and piss soaked antics and barely finds any marketable or useful fighters? That they’re better off now with a a willy-nilly scheduling approach and dead end Friday nights on FX than when they had a network that catered to their programming whims and offered good and dependable timeslots? That they have a giant roster, bought out all of their competitors and still can’t make a card that isn’t on the verge of collapse if one guy drops out?

      Yes, the Fox deal gave them a great platform to take them to the next level and should have provided great returns over their previous deal with Spike – but in execution they’ve fallen on their face at almost every step.

      • Jason Harris says:

        Starting with the floor, let’s look here:
        http://mmapayout.com/blue-book/pay-per-view/

        There are events that draw below 350k for the last several years. UFC 108, 109, 110….119, 125, 136. When UFC books weak cards they get a weak turnout. This is not new.

        450k is seen as a big success.

        Nobody considers 450k a big success. I assume you’re referring to UFC 152, and I’d say 450k is better than expected given the circumstances of the card. That’s about the nicest thing I can say about that.

        their flagship TUF which used to create stars, promote big PPVs and get ratings isn’t about booze, jizz and piss soaked antics and barely finds any marketable or useful fighters?

        TUF has always been about stupid antics, for better or for worse. It’s never going to discover people like it did in season 1 because the MMA world isn’t like it was in 2005.

        The formula is probably pretty tired, but even if TUF goes away entirely, I don’t think that means a whole hell of a lot in the grand scheme of things for UFC. Honestly it’s probably best off being replaced by weekly live fights, in my opinion.

        That they’re better off now with a a willy-nilly scheduling approach and dead end Friday nights on FX than when they had a network that catered to their programming whims and offered good and dependable timeslots?

        Yes, being involved with a major network is much better off than being on Spike. Being on FOX, FX, and Fuel (and now with the new Fox Sports channel, a high likelihood of being on there) is much better for the long term of the sport than being on Spike.

        Everyone also ignores the fact that UFC has expanded in a big way internationally….the sport has gotten huge in Brazil and they’ve had some very successful cards there, but because Dave Meltzer doesn’t report those numbers people act like they don’t exist.

        People throw around shit like “next level” and “big time” and it makes me wonder what the expectation for MMA really is. When UFC has a few successful shows in a row, all you see is complaints that they didn’t break UFC 100 records. If they have a low performing show, it’s one of the many signs that UFC is falling apart. Snowden declare UFC had peaked when Liddel fought Ortiz the second time. Every MMA blog trots out an article about every 3 months on how UFC has peaked. It’s silly and tiresome.

        Even if MMA has peaked, consistently being the highest selling PPV event outside of the biggest boxing matches is considered a disappointing failure now? Ok. I remember when 110k PPV buys was a huge success (a whopping 7 years ago!!) so perhaps my outlook is different.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          There are events that draw below 350k for the last several years. UFC 108, 109, 110….119, 125, 136. When UFC books weak cards they get a weak turnout. This is not new.

          The difference is how low and how regularly they probe these low depths. Compared to 2008, it is clear that there’s been a marked decrease in the overall number of buys. The argument that more PPVs with lower buyrates was made back in 2005/2006. Today they’re back to what things were like in 1999 (fewer PPVs, reserved only for true “megafights”), which is indicative of what that long term strategy holds.

          The formula is probably pretty tired, but even if TUF goes away entirely, I don’t think that means a whole hell of a lot in the grand scheme of things for UFC. Honestly it’s probably best off being replaced by weekly live fights, in my opinion.

          It means hours of TV potentially freed up to promote fighters that aren’t crap. That seems possibly important if you’re looking to reverse downward viewership and PPV buy trends. It seems silly to argue otherwise, IMO.

          Everyone also ignores the fact that UFC has expanded in a big way internationally….the sport has gotten huge in Brazil and they’ve had some very successful cards there, but because Dave Meltzer doesn’t report those numbers people act like they don’t exist.

          And Brazil is still an emerging economy with mediocre buying power. Being realistic here, even a big number of viewers on Globo isn’t going to replace PPV buys for the UFC. Not without someone taking a big cut in pay. TBH I think the UFC is looking at the way the US market is performing and I think they’re betting on India, China, Japan, Brazil, etc making up the difference in sheer numbers and keeping the whole thing moving. Do I believe that’s realistic long term? Doesn’t really matter, does it?

          People throw around shit like “next level” and “big time” and it makes me wonder what the expectation for MMA really is.

          The expectation for MMA was that they would at the very least be able to keep up their growth and perhaps even accelerate further with the Fox deal. When NASCAR took over the television contracts from the tracks and basically created a standardized schedule prior to the 2001 season, that led to a monster boost in overall ratings.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          The first paragraph response was re: HBO.

  7. Light23 says:

    I think the main problem is simply a lack of stars. All the shows they’ve had with star quality fighters have done well this year. Jones vs Evans, Jones vs Belfort, JDS vs Mir, Silva vs Sonnen.

    The problem is headlining shows with Diaz vs Condit, or Frankie Edgar, Urijah Faber, and even a Jose Aldo. These fighters don’t sell, and the events don’t have a “big time” feel to them.

    Which raises the question of why certain guys are stars in the first place, and how do you build someone into a star?

    I’ve never got the impression that the UFC has much of a strategy in that regards. They just seem to let the guys fight and give the one who wins the most a belt, with the hope that someone will stand out and become a star.

    It becomes problematic when people start picking and choosing and only watching the events with stars they already know, and all the potential stars are headlining 300k buy shows that only the hardcore fans watch.

  8. cutch says:

    I think the problem will be fixed if/when they get on the new Fox Sports channel, if they can get in more than double the homes for their countdowns and other hype shows that will surely help out buyrates.

    I don’t know how they expand internationally though, they want to break into Asia, Mark Fischer has talked about 10 events held there annually in 3 years, they seem to have combined Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) into another region and probably want to hold the same amount of cards there.

    The time difference will hurt the US ratings but should help ratings in these regions and hopefully lead to the UFC becoming much bigger internationally.

    I also think it would be a better idea to use a cage the size of the WEC one for the smaller guys, perhaps do some cards with 155lb and under fighters and women if they bring them over from Strikeforce, they don’t even need to call it another name like the WEC, just try to avoid booking them on the same card, perhaps Joe Silva books one card and then Sean Shelby the next.

    • Jason Harris says:

      Are they going to tear the cage down between fights? Have two octagons built in different sizes in the middle of the arena? Banish the lighter weights into their own cards where they will never get seen by anything but the most hardcore fans?

      • Alan Conceicao says:

        They could use the same smaller octagon they use for shows at the Palms in arenas when little guys are atop the card. But that wouldn’t be as fun and snarky a response.

        • The Gaijin says:

          You’re dealing with someone who rarely provides a constructive counterargument or discussion worthy counterpoints. It’s a lot easier to snark and sh*t all over one side of the argument than to actually use your brain to provide an alternative thought in response.

      • cutch says:

        I said hold separate events, one show would have 155-125lb and female fighters maybe going up to 170lb and the next show would have 155-265lb fighters.

        If casual fans don’t want to buy or watch them they wont but at least they wont be on cards with big massive cages and refs that are twice the fighters size and it should help prevent larger fighters from wall and stalling against the cage if you had a smaller cage.

        If you promote the little guys and they don’t look like midgets in a massive cage, maybe you can promote some of them into bigger draws. The smaller guys get paid less anyway, so you can do more free shows, Dominick Cruz earned $40,000 for his fight with Faber (who got $32,000) while Stefan Struve got $58,000 at UFC 146.

        • Jason Harris says:

          So again, if the problem is people not watching the shows with little fighters, you create a show with nothing but lower weight classes? This makes the problem worse, not better.

          big massive cages and refs that are twice the fighters size

          The refs are going to be the same no matter what card they’re on. They’re the same bunch of guys. They don’t have special short refs.

          The small cage doesn’t do anything but look small. Bellator runs in a cage the same size as UFC and they do fine. I don’t see any logic in running a smaller cage whatsoever, not only would it not make the guys “look bigger” but the fact is people would notice it was smaller and it would hurt the legitimacy of the fighters more than it helped it.

          The problem with the smaller weight classes is nobody knows them yet. 125 has been a weight class for ~6 months and we’ve got people lamenting why it doesn’t have any big stars.

          Creating a separate, special show for guys who aren’t well known yet, creating a smaller ring for them to fight in (and special smaller refs???) sounds silly and completely destined for failure. it would not help the divisions or the fighters fighting in it in any way, all it would do is create a show that did poor business and completely bury the divisions entirely.

          You acknowledge this by saying hey, at least when it’s a failure these guys don’t get paid as much? That’s not really a good plan for…well, anyone. Let the guys get seen on cards with better known fighters, and people will naturally become fans of guys.

          Also, why are we pretending that 5’3″ Demetrius Johnson is some sort of midget? Compared to lightweights who are what, 5’6? Yeah, that 3 inches of height means we should create a special midget show with midget refs just for him.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          The small cage doesn’t do anything but look small.

          Did you really know the UFC had a smaller cage?

          I don’t see any logic in running a smaller cage whatsoever, not only would it not make the guys “look bigger” but the fact is people would notice it was smaller and it would hurt the legitimacy of the fighters more than it helped it.

          Boxing promoters have gone to smaller rings for smaller fighters for years, and apparently it has worked there. But then that would be borrowing from boxing and…yeah. I don’t notice it on TV and frankly I don’t think the fans in the building notice it either.

          Also, why are we pretending that 5?3? Demetrius Johnson is some sort of midget?

          Because 5’3” is really really short. He’s short for a female 125lb fighter. His nickname is “Mighty Mouse”. How much smaller does he need to be before you’d cop to him being tiny?

        • Jason Harris says:

          Is 5’5 tiny? 5’6? Jeff Monson is 5’8 and a heavyweight, is he tiny?

          Demetrius Johnson, by far the smallest fighter in the UFC, is 2 inches shorter than many of the lightweights in UFC. Let’s give him say 4 inches compared to the taller lightweights. OK? So now we need to create a special Lil Tykes ring just for him?

          Alan you’re the boxing guy, do they put Pacquiao in a little ring with special short refs because he’s just a little tyke that can’t be taken seriously? He fought as low as 112 pounds, so they had to create special rings, refs, and shows just for him right? I know at 5’6 he TOWERS over 5’5 Ian McCall or 5’4 Joseph Benavidez, but did boxing do all of these things so people could look past his midget size and make him a star?

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          5’5” 125 would be appreciably smaller than the average American. Monson isn’t “tiny” because he’s absurdly muscular, to the point where it looks largely artificial. He is, however, short for his weight class.

          Alan you’re the boxing guy, do they put Pacquiao in a little ring with special short refs because he’s just a little tyke that can’t be taken seriously?

          Ring size will often change on the whims of the promoters and what the fighters will agree to and what is allowed by the commission. They generally aren’t going to use a 22 or 24 foot ring for lightweights; they’ll go 16-20 ft. The UFC cage is 32 foot. From an economic standpoint, going to a 24 foot cage for shows with little guys would allow you to add seats and wouldn’t make them look as small. The ring itself is just flat out to big to begin with IMO.

          As far as the referees go, the majority of those working in MMA that are known are huge guys. The longtime guys were often huge dudes because they had to be in order to try and pull giant dudes off of one another for stoppages. Boxing’s top refs are guys like Steve Smoger, Kenny Bayless, and Jay Nady. Herb Dean, John McCarthy, Larry Landless, Josh Rosenthal? Those are some big, ripped dudes. Boxing would have a helluva time marketing smaller weight classes if the refs in the ring with them all looked like a Klitschko brother.

        • The Gaijin says:

          @JasonHarris should just stop talking because he’s being clowned by @AlanConceicao at pretty much every turn in this thread.

        • Jason Harris says:

          So boxing promoters will “often” change things, so Pacquiao fights in a smaller ring than average? I asked a direct question and got a very broad answer.

          Also, who’s an example of the short refs the athletic comissions are supposed to put in the ring? Or UFC since everyone is pretending that they pick the refs to put in there.

          I stand by my point that the idea of a “lil tykes only” show is ridiculous. “Take all the fighters without a following and dump them on another card” is a poor business model to anyone that pays attention.

          Again, if the problem is that the smaller weights aren’t popular enough, how is creating a separate fight show just for them (with special rings and refs and maybe we won’t allow any tall fans in the arena) going to help?

          People who don’t feel compelled to watch 125 on a card with fights they want to see are suddenly going to feel compelled to tune in to watch these guys without any other fights? And once they are somehow mystically compelled to tune into this show, they’ll stay tuned in not because of quality fighting but because the guy looks big in the cage?

          Sounds like you guys should get your promoter’s license, I think you’re onto something.

        • cutch says:

          Alan’s already answered most of your points but if someone doesn’t want to buy a card featuring smaller guys, guess what put it on free TV, they aren’t getting paid that much anyway, Cheick Kongo earned more in his last fight than Barao, Faber, Benavidez & Mighty Mouse that’s the last 4 people to fight for the 135 & 125lb belt, hell throw in Dominick Cruz as well and all 5 aren’t getting paid as much as a middle of the road heavyweight.

          If you put them on free TV, maybe you can get some of them to become a PPV draws, if they are doing good ratings and gates are up, then you move them to PPV. You can’t just put Mighty Mouse Vs Dodson as a PPV main event and expect them to become a PPV draw anyway.

          “There are events that draw below 350k for the last several years. UFC 108, 109, 110….119, 125, 136. When UFC books weak cards they get a weak turnout. This is not new”

          Didn’t UFC 136 feature 2 title fights? and according to Dana White there number 3 draw in Chael Sonnen Vs an American war hero, so did the Lightweight & Featherweight title fights bring down the number 3 draws numbers? Maybe if the UFC fans get to know and see Aldo he could become a draw, instead he headlines cards that 200,000 people buy. Do Aldo Vs Koch then Korean Zombie on free TV and build up Frankie Edgar with one or 2 free Featherweight fights as well and maybe you get a fight that will draw PPV numbers when they eventually fight.

          The Flyweight title fight just got booed, did it add anything to the Jones-Belfort buyrate? As far as I read most people were negative about it, in mines and many other peoples opinions there would have been a lot more action inside a smaller cage, because the action when it happened was good, it was just there was just too much room for them to move about in.

          12 UFC shows out of the 32 booked this year will have been held outside the US, the UFC chose the referees for those events. I’m not talking about some weird midget refs but just try and leave massive guys like Big John McCarthy & Dan Margliota (sp?) at home and instead use guys like Mario Yamasaki & Steve Mazzagatti, who aren’t quite as big.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          So boxing promoters will “often” change things, so Pacquiao fights in a smaller ring than average? I asked a direct question and got a very broad answer.

          Pro boxing lacks a standardized ring size. A smaller ring allows a guy like Pacquiao to corner guys more easily because there’s less room to run. Depending on who they are negotiating with and where, they may get a smaller ring. Nevada demands a 20 footer. Ring size in California has already been reviewed in one of Zach’s posts. In any case, you’re talking about rings that are generally half the size square footage wise of the Octagon.

          Also, who’s an example of the short refs the athletic comissions are supposed to put in the ring?

          You mean like Mario Yamasaki? He doesn’t look like a pro wrestler. Not over 6′. The funny part is that the UFC as de facto sanctioning body probably could make demands about referees for the fights. They might even do that right now.

          I stand by my point that the idea of a “lil tykes only” show is ridiculous.

          It is and you’re right about that. Did the WEC teach people nothing?

      • Fluyid says:

        They do that now.

  9. The Judge says:

    The pattern, looking at PPV buyrates is pretty clear as far as what draws/has drawn recently:
    Title shots, Lesnar, St Pierre, light heavyweights, Silva, heavyweights.
    To continue to book lightweights and flyweights as solo or semi-solo main event is insanity. So is relying on slightly below top level popular stars like Franklin or Rampage to solo-draw.
    Strangely and pleasantly, it seems like the cards the fans have bought the most have been the cards that I have most wanted to see: not what I would have assumed from Dana White\’s comments average fan is interested in.

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