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Too many TV filler fights impacting both Bellator & UFC ratings

By Zach Arnold | November 8, 2013

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In my Thursday column on Fightline, I laid out the numerous challenges Bellator is facing when it comes to expanding their horizons to PPV. The biggest challenge is that they are trying to convince fans to pay for a product that they often see for “free” on cable. In other words, when you condition fans to watch your product for free, you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing them to pay for a show. That’s what Viacom is hoping they can convince MMA fans of doing in 2014.

Part of the problem Viacom faces is that Bellator has weekly MMA programming. UFC has a glut of programming on Fox Sports 1. The ratings for Bellator shows have yo-yo’d up-and-down. On FS1, UFC programming has drawn mediocre numbers outside of the Chael Sonnen fight in Boston. That fight drew 1.8 million viewers.

At stake are a few issues. First, even with a heavy glut of MMA programming on cable, you can still pop a solid number if fans are convinced that the fight you are pushing is the real deal. This is why Bellator was able to score with Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez despite their low profile name value to the masses. It’s why UFC did so well with the Sonnen fight when FS1 launched.

Second, there is an impact on TV ratings when it comes to the amount of programming. Simply put, there are so many shows that fans are picking and choosing what events to watch. This is a real phenomena amongst MMA fans. You can’t treat MMA fans like traditional sports fans because they aren’t. Many are pro-wrestling fans who watch one or two other sports. Pro-wrestling fans are used to watching episodic television on a weekly basis and are conditioned to tune into a certain time and channel. The problem with MMA is that you don’t see the same fighters week to week. So, there’s a lot more fickleness going on here. So, as there’s been more supply of MMA programming on cable, the ratings generally have gone down for shows that fans don’t perceive as important.

Right now, a lot of UFC’s C-level and B-level shows are not drawing on Fox Sports 1 because the fans don’t perceive the fights to be important enough to watch. The Ultimate Fighter experiment with Ronda Rousey has fallen off the tracks. DVR or not, the live numbers are not very good. I think a solid reason behind this, besides the fact that the show has ran its course, is that the Fox Sports 1 brand is absolutely driving negatives for UFC. The channel stinks. There’s not much programming you want to watch on the network. The graphics and presentation feel second-rate for their Sportscenter-type shows. It feels like a chore for me to watch FS1 as opposed to ESPN. I don’t want to watch FS1 on a regular basis. I have zero emotional attachment to the network and I think a lot of sports fans feel the same way. Same with NBC Sports Network except for the fact that they went all-in with the English Premier League and the gamble has paid off.

So, with the lower cable ratings for many of the UFC shows, the ratings tend to suffer when fans don’t perceive the fights as important to watch. Which leads to a bigger problem — the impact on PPV numbers.

Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman drew 525,000 PPV buys and since that point it’s been malaise city for the UFC. They need big numbers from Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva in the next two months or else the 2013 PPV campaign will close out with a whimper for UFC.

Part of the reason why the numbers are down on PPV is because there’s so much content available on cable that the motivation to pay for a fight is not as great if you perceive the PPV fights to be only slightly above the quality that you see on the cable shows. So, UFC has double trouble on this front — many of their cable shows are drawing fewer viewers because fans perceive the fights to not be important enough to watch and they hate FS1 as a channel. That in turn means that you’re getting fewer eyeballs for the prelim barker shows that are supposed to sell PPVs. When UFC went from Spike TV to FX, there was a decrease in viewers but still respectable numbers. The drop off from FX to FS1 has really hurt. I honestly thought that UFC’s gamble of taking a hit on ratings in exchange for building leverage over Fox would pay off. I’m having second thoughts about that strategy right now.

The difference between Bellator and UFC is the fact that Fox is paying UFC over $90 million a year for TV rights while Viacom is budgeting $50k-60k per Spike TV show. Hard for Bellator to gain steam when you don’t have a lot of money to spend and can’t afford to get into bidding wars. Well, Viacom can afford to do it but choose not to do it because they want to stay in the MMA space but on the cheap.

Bellator is facing the same challenges as UFC is now but only on a grander scale. They have to convince fans who have been watching them for “free” to finally pay for a product. I am not sure if the Long Beach card was exactly enough to convince MMA fans that Bellator PPV quality is worth dishing out $60. The additional challenge Bellator faces is drawing live gates that can finance the undercards. MMA Weekly reports that Bellator drew 6,600 in Long Beach with 4,200 paid. It sure didn’t look like 6,600 on camera. The original goal heading into the show was to have 8,000 in the building. They need the PPVs to come across as major events on television.

Although Bellator has a lot of questions heading into their 2014 campaign, at least I have a sense about where things are headed for the company. Whether it will succeed or not, who knows. As for UFC, Fox Sports 1 is turning out to be quicksand for the promotion. If the numbers don’t come back strong to close out the 2013 campaign, then I think there are a lot of questions that will need to asked by Zuffa as to where things are headed in 2014. The Super Bowl 2014 weekend card with Renan Barao vs. Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas is WEC-level drawing power in Newark. They could have booked Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones in a rematch here. Instead, Gustafsson will face Jimi Manuwa in London this March.

The only constant we know with the UFC is that they’re continuing to let the testosterone flow, as both Vitor Belfort & Dan Henderson will be using the magic T heading into their Saturday fight. Of course, both men now claim that they don’t need to use testosterone to keep fighting… and yet the athletic commissions and promoters continue to rubber stamp the anabolic steroid usage. I wonder why.

Topics: Bellator, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 24 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

24 Responses to “Too many TV filler fights impacting both Bellator & UFC ratings”

  1. Chris says:

    Declining numbers for the UFC is exactly what you get when you flood the market with such a ridiculous amount of product. And why would anyone with a computer pay for any MMA PPV event?

    Bellator would be better served by concentrating on being the best free promotion on TV. Leave the PPV stuff alone. But of course they won’t.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    Who here agrees that I am a hardcore UFC fan? I think everybody would say that I am. I typically don’t like UFC competitors either.

    And when a fan like myself turns on his DVR at 10:30pm on Wedenesday and fast forwards through 90% of an event…. It means the UFC has a problem.

    We do NOT need 5 hours of MMA on a Wednesday. A prelim show for a PPV is a great idea. A prelim show for a regular “Fight Night” type of card is complete overkill.


    Right now the UFC is in no man’s land. They put on too many cards to make each one special. But they don’t put on enough for the fans to just get use to tuning in every week to watch live fights. They need to either cut their roster again and make each card more special…. Or remove the band aide and just go towards a weekly show ASAP and get their base conditioned to weekly shows.

    And if there is a weekly show, I do NOT want to see 5 hours with the prelims and main card combined. I want 2 to 3 hours tops of a well oiled machine broadcast.


    They couldn’t put Jones on the Super Bowl card because he is saying he is not ready. But they absolutely should have Gustaffson on the card.


    Bellator is going off a cliff right now.

    They killed their chances for signing a lot of top level guys by screwing over fighters like Eddie Alvarez. And why did they screw him over? Because they don’t want to be a UFC feeder system.

    And yet they are still becoming a UFC feeder system for the champions. And they lost a lot of money on their failed PPV. Bellator is in trouble…

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    As a fight fan I have also made the decision that I am only going to pay for PPVs that have a title fight at Heavyweight to Welterweight. Anything lower I expect to be on free TV.

    I will make a rare exception for cards like Lamas/Aldo and Cruz/Barao because those are two legit title fights on yhe same card.

    Give it to me free as much as possible…

  4. Manapua says:

    Bellator is finishing 2013 stronger on free TV than the UFC. Huddle must be living under a rock…

    • 45 Huddle says:

      Bellator lost a lot of money to barely get 1 Million Viewers. Failing to put a show on PPV and then getting a better then average TV rating after 2 months of advertising isn’t a success. It is a huge failure.

      The UFC has their own issues, but they will certainly be around in a few years.

      If things continue this way for Bellator, they are on their way out.

      People forget that Strikeforce ratings were going up at the end. These companies spend more money to get their ratings up and then they lose too much money.

      I was one of the most vocal fans about Strikeforce showing these signs. Bellator is in that same position right now.

      • Manapua says:

        You have been saying about Bellator for three years already. At some point it just becomes wishful thinking…

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Wishful thinking? Not really.

          Just because some Viacom executive had delusions of competing with the UFC, doesn’t mean Bellator is in good shape. Bellator was saved by Viacom when they thought they could do MMA on the cheap. That gave Bellator a few more years.

          But they are losing money still…. So it isn’t something that can go on forever.

        • Manapua says:


          Show proof that Bellator lost money. You have been saying that Bellator was going to be “gone in 6 months” for the last THREE YEARS. IMO that doesn’t show much for your financial expertise.

      • Manapua says:

        You are projecting your personal desire to be right. Nothing you say is based on any actual first-hand knowledge of Viacom’s books. Your “opinion” is based on you want to happen and nothing more. This is why no one takes you seriously.

        • David m says:

          Manapua I recently realized that 45 isn’t a troll, per se, but is instead just a delusional ufc fan. Thus, arguing with him or her about his or her ridiculous hypocrisy re: ratings is a waste of time. 45 will always be able to convince him/herself that Bellator crushing the ufc’s ratings is a blow to Bellator. Why? Because 45 actually believes it.

          45 believes that everything that happens is bad for Bellator and thus good for ufc in the long term; 45 believes that all economists are wrong, and that competition is actually a bad thing. What a concept! We are basically dealing with an mma fan equivalent of a born-again Christian who is waiting for Jesus to come and smite the non-Christians dead. 45 believes that Dana White is Jesus, and that when the time is right, Dana Christ will smite down all ufc competitors, thus purifying the world. That is why arguing w 45 is a waste of time; his/her ideological fervor makes 45 entirely immune to logic.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Yes… just like me predicting Pride’s downfall was wishful thinking. Or the IFL, EliteXC, Strikeforce, and others.

          I use to look at companies financial records for a living. I know the warning signs of a company in financial peril.

          And Bellator is in trouble.

          David M,

          Only in MMA is cheering for the established companies success considered delusional.

        • David m says:

          Dude you said Bellator was going to do terrible ratings, then it got a much stronger rating than ufc programming, and you say that is bad for Bellator. With you, the glass is always half full and cracked.

          I’m not cheering against the ufc; you sound like a conspiracy nut.

          Acknowledging Bellator had a successful event doesn’t mean you are (God forbid) a fan of mma outside the ufc.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          How did they have a successful event? They lost money on it.

        • Manapua says:

          Show proof that they lost money.

        • Manapua says:

          “Yes… just like me predicting Pride’s downfall was wishful thinking. Or the IFL, EliteXC, Strikeforce, and others. I use to look at companies financial records for a living. I know the warning signs of a company in financial peril.”

          You have been saying Bellator would be “gone in 6 months” for the last THREE YEARS. That doesn’t speak well for your financial expertise.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          You need proof they lost money?

          Holy Jumping Common Sense!

          The facts are this:

          1) They set up a deal with a PPV Company.
          2) They Advertised for 2 months for the PPV.
          3) The PPV didn’t happen. So all of those costs were useless.
          4) They paid over $500,000 in fighter payroll.
          5) They had a gate of less then $400,000.
          6) SpikeTV pays under $100,000 per live Bellator event.
          7) The event had many fights with “limited” commercial breaks. This is because they did not have time to sell the ad space.

          It would take a complete fool to take all of this information and assume they made money on that event.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          I said they would be gone in 6 months and then Viacom made a stupid move and bought the company.

          Since then everything they have put on TV has failed.

          1) Fight Master ended after 1 season.
          2) Fight Replays couldn’t get high enough ratings.
          3) Counterdown type of shows have had bad ratings.
          4) Live events got moved to Friday Nights.

          Just because somebody at Viacom hates the UFC and is making poor business decisions, doesn’t mean Bellator isn’t failing. It just means it is taking longer for them to pull the plug on this failed project.

        • Manapua says:

          In closing you have no clue as usual.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          No clue? I just gave you a laundry list of information. You would have to be a fool to say you then have “no clue”.

  5. Manapua says:

    @MMASupremacy: FS1’s UFC Wed Night Ratings (last week): UFC Tonight: 60K; Ultimate Insider: 78K; UFC 167 Primetime: 126K; TUF old: 115K; TUF new: 452K #fs1

  6. cutch says:

    I seriously think the UFC should think about doing 2 shows in one day, that way they can hit the European market and still satisfy the US audience.

    Take for example the Machida-Munoz card in Europe, have it be live on Fox Sports 2 (to probably a really small audience), then later on that night have a Fox Sports 1 card like tomorrows Belfort-Henderson and replay the Machida-Munoz main event, that way the casual fans get to see more of the big name fighters and the hardcore fans get a full days worth of fights.

    I just looked it up and HBO did this with the Klitschko-Povetkin fight last month.

  7. king famous says:

    Bottom line, too much mm a programming. I’m only looking forward to st Pierre Hendrix.

  8. Chuck says:

    Bellator absolutely CRUSHED the UFC with last week’s card. Obviously more TV fans were more interested in Chandler/Alvarez II more than Tim Kennedy/Natal. Doesn’t mean the event made more money. They threw all their eggs in one basket for that event, so of course it will do better than a throw-away Wednesday UFC event.

    Absolutely reminds me of TNA Genesis 2006 with the Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe match. Still to this day it is TNA’s best selling ppv (with about 70,000 buys.) They threw all their eggs in one basket for that event. It payed off, but they never got numbers anywhere close to that again (except Lockdown 2008 with the same main event, which got about 48,000 buys).

  9. Alan Conceicao says:

    So, if you’re only really interested in say, 6-7 PPVs a year now for the UFC, how is that different from pre-TUF era UFC? Other than that there are now hundreds of live televised fights in the US to complain about existing rather than relying on tape traders for months old Pancrase or HooknShoot shows….


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