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Miserable FS1 ratings could help UFC transition away from so many PPVs

By Zach Arnold | August 28, 2013

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You knew it was going to be a tough start for the Fox Sports empire with the launch of FS1. After all, CBS Sports has their own cable channel and the channel formerly known as OLN/Versus (now NBC Sports) is owned by Comcast. There is competition for ESPN, but Fox was supposed to be the competition. You wanted an alternative? You got it. The general sports media has been groaning about ESPN’s transgressions, and rightfully so, but in the process got caught up in believing that the masses would rush to an alternative sports channel.

Not so fast.

As opinions on Fox Sports 1 harden, we can see that the early reviews signal FS1 being much closer to NBC & CBS cable channels than to ESPN. ESPN mocked FS1 (correctly so) but wanted to see FS1 do solid enough numbers that NBC & CBS would get buried down the depth chart. NBCSN, being owned by Comcast, is theoretically a threat to ESPN. The reality appears to be that NBCSN has scored big with EPL programming and will cash in with some NASCAR content. Since Comcast owns NBCSN, the issue of carriage fees is not as crucial as it would be to, say, CBS Sports and FS1. They are in the carriage fee game. They gave up a lot of money by not getting new deals cut with cable/satellite providers for FS1.

Simply put, you’re not going to get a bump up from 23 cents a viewer to 80 cents a viewer if the following happens:

0.0 ratings for some programming is absurd. Regis Philbin’s new show, opposite Around the Horn on ESPN, is drawing 29,000 viewers. That is not a typo. When you have programming drawing less than 50,000 viewers, you are in trouble. Misery loves company and FS1 has plenty of it right now. And that misery is giving UFC a hell of a lot more leverage at the bargaining table for future projects.

Dana White has preached about wanting weekly fight cards. If the trend is your friend, Dana White’s wish for weekly UFC shows could happen sooner rather than later. That’s a link to an article I wrote last week about how UFC is in great position to capitalize on FS1’s weakened position. FS1 needs UFC so badly. Without UFC on Fuel/FS2, a significant portion of FS2 programming draws less than 1,000 viewers.

FS1 has to be prepared to shell out more cash to UFC in order to get weekly cards. It’s not a matter of if but when it happens. It will be a positive development for MMA fans. It will be a step in the right direction for FS1, which desperately needs UFC programming in volume in order to get a carryover effect to bump up ratings for other shows. Without that UFC effect, FS1 is gasping for air. Sure, NASCAR gave them a nice little bump (half million viewers) & college football games will somewhat help. However, UFC right now appears to have the hardest of the hardcore viewerships that FS1 needs for survival.

It’s almost a fait accompli that we’re going to get weekly fight cards. I suspect they’ll draw more than 150k viewers like the Golden Boy fight from New York drew last Monday. The next step up will be for the suits at Fox Sports 1 to pony up enough cash to convince UFC to eliminate some of their scheduled PPVs in exchange for bigger, marquee fight cards on FS1. It’s a situation that both parties need to consider and embrace. If UFC can trim down the amount of PPVs to 10 (or less) and FS1 can get some UFC shows with bigger names, it would prove to be successful for both parties. It would prove to be the right move to give the fans what they want.

The UFC is in a terrific position here. Their casino money gave them an advantage over the competition to get the ball rolling in the MMA space for financing. Only yakuza cash could compete (somewhat) on that front and now it’s largely out of the fight space in Japan. Japan doesn’t even have a national MMA player now. Along with the casino money, UFC has the big advantage of cable being a powerhouse in the States. In Japan, being ‘cable strong’ would get you laughed out of a television executive’s ivory tower office. In America, being cable strong with a partner like Fox not only gets you a big multi-year deal, it gets you in a position to significantly leverage a hardcore fan base and convince suits at FS1 that they need your product to help support their network when the chips are down. In Japan, the Bushido series PRIDE produced drew a few million viewers on tape delay a week or so later on broadcast television. PRIDE’s hardcore fan base was mocked and looked down upon as a bunch of otakus. Imagine how much more cash UFC could command if their lowest-rated telecasts drew 5 million viewers a show.

Jack Encarnacao recently did an interview with Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand about how UFC is viewed by network television executives. He basically stated that UFC is in the same category of EPL in terms of being a niche but a strong niche that can deliver a precise demographic. EPL soaked NBC out of a lot of cash and the UFC is in prime position to do the same with Fox.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 23 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

23 Responses to “Miserable FS1 ratings could help UFC transition away from so many PPVs”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    1) The good thing for the UFC is that their fans seems to be like WWE fans. They will follow the content around to any channel.

    2) “Precise Demographic” for the UFC is so important. It means they can target specific advertisers so much easier and ask for top dollar because those companies know that the majority of the viewers are potential buyers for their product. 10 Million Viewers for The Big Bang Theory is nice, but if you advertise with them you are getting a lot of eyeballs that just don’t matter for your product.


    The two major steps the UFC needs to take is:

    1) Weekly Fight Series
    2) A move away from PPV.

    Both of these things will increase the popularity of the UFC. Don’t get me wrong. It will never by the NFL. But they can certainly get 2 Million viewers a week with the right kind of show in the future.

    But it is so hard to do that when your top guys are fighting behind a $55 pay wall.

    The UFC needs to eventually have 12 champions…. 9 men, 3 women. That will eventually mean around 30 title fights a year. Put 10 of those title fights on PPV…. Which means they will have 20 title fights for FREE TV. Almost every other week on FREE TV… They can promote a title fight. That would do such wonders for the sport.

    I don’t mind paying for GSP on PPV. Heck, I don’t mind paying for the Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, & Welterweight Titles on PPV. I do mind paying for Lightweight to Flyweight and Female divisions on PPV. And if FOX Sports 1 can pay up…. Those can be a great way to get the UFC closer to 2 Million viewers a week. And what a great time it would be to be a fan of the UFC if that can be accomplished.

  2. Steve4192 says:

    I’d be all for a move away from PPV.

    You have to think it wouldn’t cost all that much to get the UFC to drop from 14 down to 10. Those bottom four PPVs only bring in about 700K PPV buys combined. The UFC is only grossing around $5MM/event after the PPV provider takes their cut. FOX could scrape together that kind of money just by shaking out their couch cushions.

    The UFC could still have guys like GSP, Jones, and Cain on headlining major PPVs. They’d just have to give FOX the non-title PPVs and FW PPVs that don’t sell worth a shit anyway.

  3. Chuck says:

    0.0 Nielson ratings? That technically means zero viewers (not 100% true, but could be in the few hundreds, which is pathetically bad. But means amongst the Nielson counted households). Well, I’m sure John McEnroe won’t feel too bad now…

    I figured Regis Philbin’s show would do low ratings, but and average of 29,000 viewers? Good God! I guess that whole “fun and jockularity” nonsense isn’t exactly working out.

    Speaking of new Fox channels, I wonder how FXX will do. I’m sure better than FS1 and 2, considering that It’s Always Sunny is switching over to FXX. That will help tremendously.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      On U-Verse… FXX is moving into FX’s old channel number. I assume FX is moving down one. It should get a lot of viewers from that alone.

      • Chuck says:

        Yeah, true. It’s amazing the strides FX has made in recent years. Then look at SpikeTV, for instance.

        Speaking of Nielson ratings, they are making a BIG change with how they compile their ratings. They will now count legal online streaming of shows. That could either enhance a show’s number, or debilitate it. I know it will harm WWE RAW and TNA Impact because those shows aren’t available for legal streaming. UFC on FS1? Is it available for legal stream?

        Eh, as long as you know how to read the numbers, and look past the Nielson number, then it shouldn’t affect too much.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          As of right now, an advertiser will spend much more money per viewer on Television compared to the internet.

          The hope is that with Nielson counting both is that at some point in the future… It won’t matter where somebody watches it…. And advertisers will pay the same money.

          When that happens, it will be much easier to transition content from television online…. including sports.

  4. duck says:

    Live Sports are what brings in viewers to Sports networks and ESPN still has most of the major sports rights. The hope should be that in say 5 years ESPN is now not the only thing casual fans think of when they consider sports networks.

    The next big TV deal that is up is the NBA in 2016 and FS1 will most likely have a piece of that, even if it’s a brtand new package they share with ABC/ESPN and Turner.

  5. The Gaijin says:

    Forgot to mention this last night…I was watching the UFC 164 countdown show on Youtube last night, trying to catch up on what I missed on vacation and holy smokes – 45 this will probably stick in your craw worse than others – they TOTALLY whitewashed Josh Barnett’s steroid suspension after winning the UFC belt.

    I know they don’t like Randy, but that just seemed like a complete middle finger to him. Seriously, it’s like they did a really crappy edit or something – “Josh wins UFC HW championship at 24…[blip]…and then he went into pro wrestling and won the Pancrase title and fought in PRIDE.”

    Literally *ZERO* about the steroids…that’s ridiculous. I am as big a Barnett supporter as there is, but that’s just insane…they whitewashed his whole sorted history like that. Bad look. It had to have been edited or even worse an edict went out that nothing was to be said about it, because I highly doubt an arrogant fucker like Frank Mir wouldn’t say *something* about it.

    • Steve4192 says:

      God Bless Ben Askren.

      He was all over that omission on twitter, calling out both Barnett and the UFC for it. Kudos to Ben.

      • The Gaijin says:

        Oh yeah? Good on him and did Barnett give a typically aloof response and/or challenge a WW to fight him to settle the beef?

        I’m wondering why Ben would “risk” that given he’s in talks with the UFC for a big FA contract.

        • edub says:

          Yep, Barnett acted like a dick. Shayna Baszler even gave the whole “you don’t know the whole story, so you’re an idiot” defense. Askren asked her for details and she had none. Barnett then gave the whole “when I see you blah blah blah…”

          I’m thinking bagging on White’s old nemesis won’t mess up negotiations that much. Although him calling out UFC’s production was probably not the best idea.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      I saw it on Monday on FS1.

      I was not shocked, but talk about blatantly lying to your audience.

      Barnett shouldn’t even be competing in MMA anymore because of his 3 positive tests….

      And the the type of questions from reporters to Dana White should be like this:

      Every major league has a 3 strikes and you are out policy. Why is the UFC using a fighter who has pissed hot 3 times?

    • Megatherium says:

      They failed to disclose negative information in an infomercial you say?

      Shiver ms timbers!

  6. 45 Huddle says:

    All prelims will now be on FOX Sports 1…. Which means for Fight Night cards like this, it will be 5 straight hours of UFC on FOX Sports 1.

    • The Gaijin says:

      So we’re getting a redux of SpikeTV (I say that in a good way), but on a bigger platform and with a better brand name network. Soon it will just be the UFC channel and Zuffa won’t have had to shell out all the money to set it up!

      • 45 Huddle says:

        NBC Sports is basically the NHL channel for 6 months of the year.

        I think eventually the channel will have better sports and the UFC will still have the Wednesday block to do whatever they want with it. Which means if they want to put 5 hours of fighting on it, FOX will be happy because it is bringing in good ratings.

        Should be interesting to see how the UFC does in the ratings. I thought the first one could have gotten under 500,000 viewers and it got over 1.5 Million. But this is a Wednesday show with a less stacked card. Anything over 1 Million should be decent.

  7. billy says:

    When has Dana talked about wanting weekly fights? I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before.

  8. 45 Huddle says:

    The show did 824,000 viewers. They need to be able to average over 1 Million per week to really have an impact moving forward. But FX started off slowly and got up to decent ratings.

    What they really need is some better programming on the channel to help them out.

    Overall not bad. It beat whatever ESPN had on their channel at the time.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      If they’re doing a weekly show in the future, the target range should be 700k-ish with the hopes of propelling FS Live to around 250k viewers.

      The whole point of UFC’s value on FS1 is carryover of ratings to other programming. That’s the whole enchilada. I think those who get caught up in whether or not UFC’s primary goal is expanding the pie are lost in the forest here. There’s a ceiling, a cap to what UFC can get for fans given the way they book their product and the presentation. So, now it’s a matter of maximizing value – nothing more, nothing less.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        I know FOX was talking about competing with ESPN out of the gate, but I think that had a lot to do with posturing for more money from cable companies. Right now it is basically the UFC channel.

        This is from wikipedia:

        “Fox Sports 1 airs an array of live sporting events, including college sports (most notably Pac-12 Conference football, Big 12 Conference football, and Big East Conference basketball), soccer matches (including the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, and CONCACAF Champions League), UFC mixed martial arts, and a variety of motor sports events. Beginning in 2014, FS1’s schedule will expand to include Major League Baseball, United SportsCar Racing, and FIA Formula E Championship events, with coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and United States Golf Association championship events starting in 2015.”

        So it’s not like the UFC is just sitting on a channel with no future. The deals have already been signed. As the channel averages go up, so will the UFC’s viewership. Not in huge amounts, but enough to help them.

        These might not be getting ESPN like numbers, but it will continue to get more people clicking over FS1 in order to see what is on. And that will help the UFC long term.

        Short term…. As in the next 12 months…. Their goal should be to be the #2 sports network behind ESPN. And not a “Bellator #2” (basically by default). I am talking about being a real 2nd place alternative to ESPN. And based on what they have coming through the pipeline, I think this can become a reality.


        Long-term for the UFC…. This is fantastic. This is going to allow them to increase the amount of money they can get from these big sporting networks. And it will allow them to increase their fight schedule until eventually they are basically a weekly fight show.

  9. duck says:

    Wednesday will have an insane amount of UFC on FS1 it’s

    4P ET UFC Prefight Show
    5P ET UFC Prelims
    7P ET UFC Fight Night

    10 P ET The Ultimate Fighter

    The ratings will suffer in the West, especially with the Fight Night staring even earlier because of TUF.

  10. 45 Huddle says:

    The word on the street is that the Bellator LHW Champion isn’t even hurt… So the interim title fight is an even bigger load of doo doo.

    • Todd says:

      I guess Tournament’s don’t mean much anymore. Know I’m curious if they will discipline Atilla Veigh for speaking out.


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