The state of the UFC address

by Kelsey Philpott | source:

There’s a lot of misinformation circulating around the MMA community in regards to the state of the UFC, so I’d like to provide a little payout perspective on the hot button issues that currently have some folks troubled.

UFC TV Ratings and PPV Buyrates

Simply put: the PPV buyrates are up and the TV ratings are down.

The UFC is now just exiting an eight (8) event streak where it scored 500,000 PPV buys or more. Moreover, the UFC is currently on pace to break its PPV sales record with a 2010 showing that should come in around the 9 million mark: UFC 121 should do at least 1 million buys with the Brocktober promotion, plus a decent UFC 123 card and TUF-backed UFC 124 should be able to do another million combined.

The PPV sales are encouraging and demonstrate the potential of the UFC. There is a strong demand for its product at the highest levels, which implies strong matchmaking, evocative story telling, and reasonably injury free combatants. If the UFC can continue to develop fighters and carefully select matches that make sense for both the division and entertainment purposes, the sky is nearly the limit.

However, the television ratings are dropping on Spike for just about everything. I don’t think this a reflection of the sport or a slight to the potential of the product. Rather I think it comes back to provide compelling content. When the UFC provides content like UFN 14 (Silva vs. Irvin) or UFC 105 (Couture vs. Vera) people are going to tune in. When the UFC offers up something like Swick-Burkman as a main event for UFN 12, people won’t.

I hear a lot of concern about over-saturation in the marketplace, but it really all comes down to the product offering. The good events will be highly successful and the bad events will experience just mediocre results.

But I will caution that the UFC cannot afford to get complacent. Spike has essentially run the same format on TUF for the last 12 seasons and the results of a stale and bland product are starting to show. The UFC is a company known for its willingness to experiment and live on the edge – both with its product and its marketing tactics – but we haven’t seen the same level of innovation (or risk taking) on the production side. It would be a shame to see the company fail to change and adapt to an evolving fan base with new and different tastes and preferences. The issue of what exactly should be done with TUF is something I’ll save for another day.

UFC Attendance and Gate Revenues

The attendance and gate revenues for UFC events are a bit of a mixed bag. The UFC claims to be selling out many of its events, but they’re often papered to varying degrees and the setup is often built to less than arena capacity. However, I don’t buy the argument that the percentage of out-of-town fans at each event should somehow diminish the attendance or gate figures. These fans are part of the sport and what make it so great.

Overall, the attendance and live gate are still pretty solid. Las Vegas and all of Canada are incredibly strong. New markets like Philadelphia and Boston have good potential. Yet, by and large, the average gate sits in and around the $1.5 million to $2.5 million mark. People were shocked to hear Indianapolis did $1.6 million, but that’s not a terrible gate.

If anything, I think the reaction to some of these things is more a reflection of heightened fan expectations than anything else. There’s been a certain falsehood perpetuated by some in the media that suggests the UFC should sellout and do a huge gate in every new market, but rarely is this the case. It takes time to build a local spectator market – no matter if you’ve had television exposure in the area or not.

Yes, the UFC did tremendously well in its Montreal and Vancouver debuts, but Canada is MMA crazy and certainly not representative of the American market. More to the point, only Montreal has done multiple events and I can almost guarantee you that UFC 124 will sell better than UFC 83. Why? There are far more UFC/GSP fans in Montreal now than in April 2008.

The Popularity of UFC Fighters

The UFC is having no more or less difficult a time producing star fighters than it ever has. In this regard MMA fans seem to have very short memories; the prevailing thought seems to be that if a star isn’t born every six months, something must be going wrong. However, there are a number of examples that currently point to the contrary:

    * Three years ago the MMA community was questioning the ability of Rampage Jackson to fill the shoes of Chuck Liddell, both as light heavyweight champion and one of the biggest draws in the sport. Now he sits at #3 in terms of average PPV buys since 2008.
    * Two years ago it was widely believed that Lyoto Machida was boring and incapable of headlining a fight card. Now we know different as he currently sits at #6 in terms of average PPV buys since 2008.
    * Today we’ve got men like Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez emerging as viable fighters that could very likely reign over their respective divisions for many years. Others will emerge in their respective divisions given time. That’s really the beauty of MMA right now: we’re finally starting to see elite athletes like Jones and Velasquez enter the sport. It’s only a matter of time before more follow.

The most important thing to remember about star fighters is that it’s not necessary for them to be charismatic, good looking, and own a life story that could land them on the New York Times #1 Best Seller list. A fighter’s popularity simply all depends on performance. If a fighter proves to be highly skillful and entertaining, people will start to watch and the word will spread. It’s really not complicated.

I tend to think that sometimes people confuse being a star or draw with being a cross-over pop culture icon. Very few athletes have this potential in any sport – let alone MMA. There are only so many athletes like Derek Jeter or Shaq. Perhaps MMA will have one some day, but it doesn’t need one to be successful or continue its growth, either.

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Recent Comments »

Herring In A Fur Coat site profile image  

10/4/10 1:57 PM by Herring In A Fur Coat

 I've purchased nearly every single UFC PPV since 2003 or so.  I've never purchased a single WWE/F PPV...

dabigchet site profile image  

10/4/10 1:55 PM by dabigchet

thanks captain obvious, er, i mean uncle justice. my point is that it is not a valid comparison, especially to view graphically. the charts should either compare the same period, or should project out the last the months of 2010, which will include 1 million+ buy card, and another big one in is the same problem with ratings. the UFC is running two numbered UFCs on spike in the next month and those always have higher ratings than the fight night cards.

Uncle Justice site profile image  

10/4/10 1:46 PM by Uncle Justice

 Wild guess:  because the chart compares past years to this year, of which we are 3/4 of the way through.

jake11 site profile image  

10/4/10 1:42 PM by jake11

certainly not on ufc ppv's I've been watching since day one of the UFC, there was a time when you couldn't get it on PPV. I used to go to one of the very few places in the country where you could watch it (a bar in sommerville, ma that isn't even there anymore).Back then the events were very exciting and were not full of stalling techniques, win-on-points strategies and f'n movie or video game advertisements. The events suck now, I get a downloaded copy of each event and I FF through 75% of the whole thing. I am certainly not alone either. I hear the same thing all the time. The mindless idiots that spend their money on pro-wrestling are the same rejects that will support the UFC no matter how bad it gets. The marketing machine that targets WWE fans is now targeting MMA fans.

MAIN EVENT OF THE EVENING site profile image  


You guys do realize 2006 was the most recent peak in our economy.? That means since we have hit our peak in 2006 and our economy has headed down the UFC has constantly been growing!!!The way shit grows (from what I understand anyway) is 3 steps forward a couple back. Then 3 steps forward etc etcWhat you say?

AngryFoamy site profile image  

10/4/10 11:13 AM by AngryFoamy

Great information and thank you for sharing. I agree with the TUF format being more than stale. I always thought a mix of what the Tapout show was and TUF would make for a successful TV show.  For example if you actually showed the UFC (Joe Silva,/DW) go around to local promaotions to view upcoming and local talent.  Then if the said fighter wins on his local showing, the UFC gives the fighter a slot on the show.  They can do this with 8 fighters across the world, yes the world.  Then bring those 8 fighters to the TUF style format to battle out in an 8 man tournament, the winner of course getting a slot on the UFC roster. I think the addition of local promotions and the pressure of permorning to win at the local circuit to get on the show would be much more enticing to MMA fans than the "personality" draw that Spike has looked for in the past few seasons. 

Herring In A Fur Coat site profile image  

10/4/10 11:08 AM by Herring In A Fur Coat

 Good article.

slamming site profile image  

10/4/10 11:02 AM by slamming

Great article.

dabigchet site profile image  

10/4/10 10:52 AM by dabigchet

whether or not boxing fans shell out for the minor PPV cards doesn't mean they aren't there.

ECWCock site profile image  

10/4/10 10:52 AM by ECWCock

MMA Payout is the best!