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Keeping up with the UFCs: Will UFC be able to win back fans who are burnt out?

By Zach Arnold | July 18, 2014

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The original event schedule for July & August for the UFC involved 10 shows over 8 weeks. With the Staples Center event canceled, we’re down to 9 shows. We’ve had three shows so far. The first two reportedly drew a million eyeballs on Fox Sports 1. The third show, this past Wednesday, didn’t do so hot. But you had to be a real hardcore fan to even know that there was a Donald Cerrone fight happening. He’s a staple on the Fox broadcast shows and was positioned for a deep cable show, so it’s not much a surprise that even for a guy as exciting as he is that few people saw his fight with Jim Miller.

We have two events left for July, then four more for August. And the aggressive schedule picks up significantly more steam in the Fall, where the shows never stop — including the UFC’s latest attempt to win in Japan, which is an experiment that I find very provocative to say the least.

How the rest of July 2014 looks for UFC:

7/19 Dublin, Ireland at the O2 Arena
TV: Internet

7/26 San Jose Arena
TV: Fox broadcast (all stations)

According to Dave Meltzer in his recent interview with Sherdog, he said that ticket sales for the San Jose event were nothing special and that there is very little buzz at all heading into the show. This confirms what I had been hearing in the background. Sacramento will likely face the same troubles on August 30th. This isn’t the fault of the California MMA fans. They support the sport. But they also want to see the A-listers and that’s not happening.

After listening to the first half of that Sherdog interview, I proverbially wanted to jump off a cliff. It was a brutal autopsy of what has gone wrong for UFC and how self-inflicted the damage truly is. They haven’t hit rock bottom yet and will have to do so before their behavior changes. As noted in the interview, you can’t ask fans to watch a couple of hours of UFC prelims and then ask them to come back the next night to watch five more hours.

“There’s only so much time people are going to devote to this.”

One of the major problems for UFC has been giving up on their Prime Time three-episode hype series for big fights. They bleed cash when the shows air on Fox Sports 1 because FS1 isn’t the platform that Spike TV is. And yet, they are making more money than ever in TV rights. It’s the problem that MLB has right now and they, too, are a Fox Sports television property.

It was fascinating to listen to Dave talk about how a woman in Ronda Rousey is the face of MMA right now and that you just haven’t historically seen a woman be a major face of combat sports like she is now. The only other female in MMA who came close was Gina Carano. This observation was juxtaposed to the poor numbers that the Cain Velasquez/Junior dos Santos fight in Houston drew on PPV (a little over 300,000 buys). Despite all of the effort and all of the great fight performances, something has not clicked with the fans to want to back Cain in a big way. Personality has a lot to do with it.

The big concern is what happens in 2017 when the TV deal expires with Fox. Does UFC end up in a situation similar to WWE with NBC Universal where they have to take similar money or a slight pay raise due to the fact that the numbers have decreased over the years? The fact is, watered down shows even in prime time won’t draw good-enough ratings.

Regarding the problem UFC has making stars right now with so many shows going on, to paraphrase Dave:

“[Lawler/Brown] is a fantastic main event but it’s that whole thing when you have a low number of people watching the shows that make the stars. They become lesser stars.”

One of the problems pointed out by Jack Encarnacao is that there appears to be a caste system developing for UFC fighters. There are guys built as stars on the Fox platforms who remain stars on Fox platforms but don’t translate to PPV and the fighters who draw on PPV remain on PPV. Plus, the UFC has been boxed in by a ridiculous ranking system and now given how many shows are happening, a major focal point seems to be on “hey, watch this guy ranked at #6 versus this guy ranked at #7” instead of taking the time to find the right kind of personality conflicts & pairings that allow for building up to great grudge matches. UFC is no longer a unique product.

Demetrious Johnson is a perfect example of UFC’s conundrum. He fought on Fox three times in 2013, had great fight performances, but nobody wants to pay to watch him on PPV. Will Daniel Cormier fall into the same trap even with the exposure he has on Fox platforms?

There has to be a breaking point if the status quo doesn’t change. Is it too late to reverse course?

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 22 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

22 Responses to “Keeping up with the UFCs: Will UFC be able to win back fans who are burnt out?”

  1. Chris says:

    I skipped Cerrone-Miller. But I plan on watching the Bellator Replay. As far as the Satruday card goes, I just plan on catching the main event.

  2. SansVitaminS says:

    Remember… In the UFC’s mind they will one day be bigger than “World Cup Soccer” (So basically they’ll be the biggest thing in sports history EVER). Imagine all the money that is going to flow from TV rights when that happens, PPV? hell that is peanuts in comparison. They probably picture a world where there is a UFC event happening every single day all across the globe (You are not supposed to watch all of them of course, just the ones in your designated “region”).

    This is basically the problem they have — they so strongly believe in all that crap that they are willing to compromise what has made them successful so far. They have yet to realize that the UFC is a commodity with a special type of audience that loves to feel that they are watching something special and unique.

  3. Nepal says:

    It’s interesting how I’ve evolved as an MMA fan. For many years, waiting for a PPV was a palpable experience for me. I thought about it constantly and talked to those of my friends that would listen or care constantly. Today, I talk with my closest MMA buddy and we both feel the same. We love watching good fights and will watch most of them but it’s nothing like the old days.

    My buddy and I used to go to a hotel lounge where we knew we could get decent internet speeds and pay the $50 to Yahoo and watch the fights even with the shitty internet and sporadic video. Now here in Bangkok all the PPV’s and FOX shows are on TV at no extra charge beyond the cost of the cable service so everybody gets all the UFC shows. When this change happened we would meet at one of our houses for our MMA mornings and watch the cards live. The shows typically start around 9am Sunday morning Bangkok time. We haven’t gotten together in ages, at least 18 months for a Sunday morning MMA event. In fact, none of us even watch the events live even something as anticipated and exciting as Weidman vs. Machida. If I have nothing going on, I’ll watch the fights live, otherwise and this is much more common, I’ll go do whatever I have to do and I’ll download the torrent file later in the afternoon and watch the card sometime in the aft or evening. EVEN WEIDMAN VS. MACHIDA!!! I won’t read any mma sites so I won’t know who won the fights but it’s not possible to stay really “hard core” when they have all these crap cards all over the world, which each rob one or 2 good fights from the PPV’s, which are now Boxing type events. Good main card coupled with fights nobody but hard cores have even heard of and even then, there are generally a few fighters even I haven’t heard of.

    It seems like pirating PPV’s is the elephant in the room. The PPV’s are drawing poorly because people are refusing to pay for crap cards and that’s what people are talking about. Pirating is huge, I haven’t lived in North America in 16 years so I’m not in touch with the issues of piracy. Here in Asia, piracy is just a normal part of life so maybe I’m out of touch but jesus christ, who wouldn’t pirate a PPV card if they just wanted to watch one fight. Who the hell would pay $55 to watch one good fight? The torrent files are up hours after the event, pirating is easy. Why is this phenomenon not discussed when talking about low ppv numbers?

    • The Gaijin says:

      I think pirating is a far overblown issue that is usually used by management types as a boogieman to explain away other failures to older, naive and out of touch stakeholders. It’s not OUR fault! It’s those dirty pirating thieves. Yes, it plays a part, but it is really a signal from the market that your distribution channel/platform are broken and not delivering what the market wants. It should be a signal that you need to innovate and give the customer what they want. iTunes has proved this in spades. But because there are quasi-monopolistic mega-corporations that control 90% of the content and delivery systems it isn’t happening.

      The other part that I think complicates the issue is that I think there are a number of PPV cards (or other media types – movies, music) that won’t see anywhere near close a 1:1 effect if you wiped out pirating. People will perhaps download it to take a look at it and try it out (e.g. skip or ffwd through fights to check out one particular fighter) but would never spend their money on it otherwise. Stopping pirating isn’t going to solve all their ills.

  4. rst says:

    At first I was less then impressed with the Holly Holm signing,
    really? Randy Couture versus James Toney is the best wmma has to offer?
    But now Gina, who was only a wmma champ becasue she’s hot and there was/is no legit comp, will get an immediate 1-fight signing and title shot?
    James Toney style.

    Thats the kind of thing I hate about ufc and twitter-mma.

    I still love to watch things like Gegard/lyoto just for the principles, I’d watch either of those guys fight anybody any day. Even if that was another of danajoels childish revenge on SF matches. But anything resembling a match I’d be interested in as a SPORT happens 5-6 times a year these days.

    • The Gaijin says:

      “But now Gina, who was only a wmma champ becasue she’s hot and there was/is no legit comp, will get an immediate 1-fight signing and title shot?”

      Was she even a champ? I thought the fight with Cyborg was to crown the Strikeforce FW champ. She wasn’t even a champ, I think the highest ranking she had was No. 3 FW. So really, she’s just a famous and known commodity to feed to Rousey – who would be coming in off a crushing loss from five+ years ago.

      At this point what do you want though? There’s really no one else to have her fight that is worth a damn and RR is arguably their biggest star. She’s like a Kimbo with real world class world beating talent that they’ll want to showcase and ride the wave until she either walks away to Hollywood or gets knocked off the top of the mountain.

  5. David m says:

    The only women’s mma fight I want to see is Cyborg vs Ronda, and it is clear Dana will never allow Santos within 5 miles of Rousey.

    Dana is even more delusional than I thought if he thinks there is an outcry among fans to see Ronda for Cyborg’s leftovers.

  6. Diaz's cashed bowl says:

    Dana’s “chat” with Sakuraba for the “hardcore” fans revealed Dana’s true shallowness.
    Dana said that pride screwed up and Saku could have been a big international star!
    Then Saku tells Dana his favorite fight is vs Akiyama… dana says
    “Saku vs Akiyama? never seen it”. “Who did he fight in Heroes?”

  7. David m says:

    Conor McGregor is a fucking star. He has the skills, the charisma, the fighting style, and the look of a guy that people will pay to watch. Given all that, his next fight will assuredly be on Fuel TV, which allegedly if available in many homes.

  8. Michael. says:

    Hi – for me and my friends it’s been kind of the same over the last years.
    Example: a friend of mine and me met at a Sunday 4am to watch the Vitor vs. Anderson fight live (was the first event we discovered that was for free in Germany. Now since Fightpass, you gotta pay. Which is fair I guess but more on that soon). Later we saw that you could watch the original PPVs 4free later again and would meet on Sundays always to watch the shows.
    Now we barely chat briefly about the events with little interest and only know 1/5th of the people.

    Just to point out 2 things about the story:
    1. I know there have been some amazing fights lately and the talent sure is better; I’m just frustrated that I can’t memorize every fight anymore and gave up. That makes it less interesting. That and fights not happening (injuries: not the UFCs fault) and stupid title-shots & title-shot-rematches (is UFC’s fault) and the other usual things I hear people other people complaining about also
    2. I could afford the money and I think it’s fair to pay for a service, but at the moment I’m not interested in any fight. I would have paid for Vitor-Anderson for example

    Greetings, Michael
    p.s. it was always awesome to wake up on a Sunday with a terrible hangover but excited, make a coffee and watch the latest UFC PPV in HD for free 🙂
    Only “hiccup” that once occured was with the Weidman-Silva I. stream where I clicked play and the PPV jumped right away to when Weidman walked away with the belt and Rogan said “… and Silva’s never been knocked out cold” or sth like that…still watched it thoug

  9. Mmakid7 says:

    Im doe paying or crappy ppv’s. You give me crappy cards and I will stream it all day long. You can tell the UFC doesn’t really care what we fns think anymore.

  10. Alan Conceicao says:

    These discussions usually turn into people talking about how they used to be bigger fans and that’s cool or whatever, but I don’t know that it really means much.

    Being honest with myself, the fighters now are better than ever. The sport, however, doesn’t have any sort of structure or make a lick of sense in terms of how things happen. Yeah, boxing is like that too, but at least with boxing you can get away with saying that there’s a wide array of interests being served. With the UFC, the primary interest being served are those of the promoter and no one else. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Worse than that though is the simple fact that the sport of MMA isn’t that compelling. If you’ve seen a couple wrestle boxers badly wing bombs at one another en route to attempting to earn a title shot they won’t win, you’ve seen 3/4 of all the “good” fights that will ever take place in the sport. Most fights still resemble one sided takedown/guard pass demolitions and there visibly isn’t any clear skill differentiation between the minor leagues and most top UFC/Bellator events.

    • edub says:

      “Most fights still resemble one sided takedown/guard pass demolitions and there visibly isn’t any clear skill differentiation between the minor leagues and most top UFC/Bellator events.”

      I can attest to this. Ever since I began officiating and judging I have stopped watching a lot of other MMA. Watching a show on FS1 or fuel or whatever the others are called now just doesn’t get me going anymore. I feel like I’ve already watched something close to it by being at a local event.

      Although i will normally check out the main event or that and the co-main.

      • Alan Conceicao says:

        And I don’t blame you at all. The reason we have this discussion about “oversaturation” and baseball/football/basketball don’t have it is simply because this sport isn’t actually that unpredictable. For all the arguing about it, the overwhelming majority of fights come down to a simple question: can fighter A be taken down by fighter B? If the answer is “yes”, Fighter B is almost certain to win unless he does something dramatically boneheaded. Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, Mighty Mouse, Anderson Silva, GSP, Matt Hughes, Tito Ortiz, Fedor, and Ronda Rousey have all put together significant and long winning streaks in this sport over the last 10 years against top competition in their weight classes. Boxing might actually be less predictable. Look at the rises of Mauricio Herrera and Ruslan Provodnikov for example.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          I would blame some of this directly on the UFC. They get rid of fighters who are “boring”. They constantly give bonuses and better treatment to “exciting” fighters. What this has done is created a style of fighting that is predictable and boring.

          MMA was supposed to be about different fighting styles competing against each other. That is basically gone.

          Fighters know if they try and grind out a victory they won’t have a long future in the UFC.

        • Kid Nate says:

          That’s why it was so disheartening when they refused to sign Ben Askren. The guy may be boring inside the cage but he’s a true star with a huge personality and top level fighting ability and a natural rivalry with Johny Hendricks.
          I think from the UFC’s perspective Askren is a tri-fecta of dangerous fighter, independent attitude and boring style who would be a headache on many levels.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Not signing Ben Askren was terrible. I am still pissed about that one. To me it was the nail in the coffin for the grapplers in the UFC.

  11. Diaz's cashed bowl says:

    In the 90’s I watched ufc mars extreme fighting pancrase etc… on ppv or pirate satellite. Back then… good luck finding someone with the right cable or dish service for the ppv you wanted to see.
    Now with tivo type technologies and fightpass streaming there is no adversity to overcome…its easy to watch the ufc. Its dumped in your lap repeatedly throughout the week.

    Thats whats great about One fc, its tough to watch live because it starts at 4 am, its a long show 4-5 hours, and they don’t put out a 1/2 dozen shows a month so theres some time to look forward to a show and digest it later. Also they now have that $50,000 bonus for best fight, resulting in all finishes on the last card. And they have some rare aces like Askren and Aoki, the likes and value of which seem beyond the ufcs ability to comprehend.

  12. 45 Huddle says:

    Sad day for MMA….

    Vitor Belfort is being allowed to fight in Vegas.

    So Vegas and The UFC are just straight up corrupt.

  13. edub says:

    Chael Sonnen – Gets book thrown at him, and basically gets berated during his part. Surprise, he’s retired and won’t bring anymore money into the state. THE GETS OFFERED A FUCKING JOB!

    Vitor – Virtually no punishment at all.

    Floyd Mayweather – None of his domestic violence gets brought up, and a commission member even compares himself to PBF.

    That hearing was sad.

  14. Christian says:

    When are they supposed to discuss Wanderlei’s future? Thanks.

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