Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The UFC is a privately held company, and does not make PPV figures public. However, there is no one outside the company who knows more about the viewership of the sport’s dominant league than Dave Meltzer. In a must-read MMA Fighting article for fans of MMA’s business side, Meltzer broke down the UFC in 2016 vs. 2017.

Meltzer detailed how the absence of Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, and Conor McGregor from the Octagon negatively impacted not just pay per view events, but undercard viewership, and non-PPV shows as well.

The biggest event of the year was MayMac, the importance of which he summed up by noting that the $600 gross was nearly as much as the entire UFC for the year. While the year was tremendous for Notorious, the UFC’s popularity declined, greatly in some places, following a strong 2016.

UFC president Dana White has described 2017 as the league’s best ever. Despite big viewership declines, Meltzer says White’s characterization makes sense. Meltzer noted that in April the new UFC owners WME-IMG projected 2017 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) as $320 million, which compares favorably with 2016’s record-breaking $226 million.

2016 had five shows topping 1 million buys; 2017 had just one, Bisping vs. GSP, but only if you count international PPV figures. Still, the UFC had their best year ever due to:
•Escalations in television rights fee in the USA and worldwide;
•$55 million in cost savings (goodbye Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, corporate jet trips, and more);
•Reduced corporate spending; and,
•The UFC’s cut of MayMac.

But the UFC was less popular in 2017, by the numbers…

PPVs fall by more than 50%
2016: 13 PPVs, estimated 8.2 million buys (average of 630k)
2017: 12 PPVs, estimated 3.7 million buys (average of  310k)

PPV prelims down 29%
2016: 1,168,500 viewers
2017: 834,000 viewers

Live Gate down over 50%
2016: 11 North American PPVs grossed $60,765,313 (average of $5,524,119 per show)
2017: 10 North American PPVS grossed $26,854,406 ($2,685,441 per show)

Of course, if you add the UFC co-promoted MayMac to 2017, 2017 flips to spectacular, with 7 million buys and $82.3 million in live gate.


FOX Sports 1 shows down 17.6%
2016: 965,111 viewers on average
2017: 795,412 on average

Fight Night prelims down 13%
2016: average 730,125 viewers
2017: average 634,929 viewers

Big FOX shows down 21.7%
2016: average 2,661,000 viewers
2017: average 2,084,500 viewers

Meltzer noted that Bellator too declined, but not as dramatically, which he attributed to a lack of freak shows.
2016: 676,364 per show average
2017: 610,318 per show average

The UFC apparently had it’s best ever year in 2017. The FOX television deal expires in 2018, and the league could see a massive increase in TV revenue thereafter, likely enough to make 2018 the greatest year on record. Enough perhaps event to pay off a $4 billion note.