Skip to main content

2021 PFL Championship earns worst TV rating of any league final in PFL history (UPDATED)

PFL Championship

HOLLYWOOD, FL - OCTOBER 27: Kayla Harrison v Taylor Guardado in a lightweight championship bout during the PFL championships at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on October 27, 2021 in Hollywood, Florida. (Cooper Neill / PFL)

In what was billed as the "biggest night in MMA," the 2021 PFL Championship proved to come up very small in cable television ratings on Wednesday night.

The 2021 version of the PFL came to a close on Wednesday with a 10-bout card that included six million dollar championship fights, and the MMA return of two-time boxing Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields. The event was the culmination of the league's third season that started in late April, featured six regular-season events and three playoff cards.

Although the event did not include several of the promotion's more recognizable names to casual fans, it did have their most exciting fighter in returning welterweight champion Ray Cooper III, and 2019 women's lightweight champion Kayla Harrison. Harrison is another two-time Olympic gold medalist -- in Judo -- that the league has worked hard to mold into their public face since the PFL's inception in 2018. Both won their championship bouts at the event.

2021 PFL Championship has worst ratings number of any league championship event

However, despite a show where the league handed out over six million dollars in fighter payouts -- a true rarity in the sport -- and showcased two of their best talents, the event did not seem to resonate at all with sports or MMA fans.

pfl championship

Credit: Show Buzz Daily

On Thursday, Show Buzz Daily released the full rundown of the Wednesday night ratings, and the 2021 PFL Championship averaged only 166,000 viewers. Finishing in the 110th on the night among original cable television broadcasts.

As the fourth most popular MMA organization in the market, there wasn't an expectation that the card would pull in over a million viewers. However, the final number is quite disastrous when compared to what the league was able to achieve for its two previous championship cards in 2018 and 2019.

2021 PFL Championship drops by nearly 200K viewers from 2019 final card

In 2018, the league's final event earned 204,000 viewers on NBC Sports. In 2019, the PFL began its partnership with ESPN, and that bigger platform led to a solid increase of interest and a final number of 361,000 average viewers.

To fall by nearly 200,000 viewers over the previous year will be a very difficult pill to swallow for the league going into season four in 2022.

Several factors may have led to the event's disastrous rating number. In the two previous years, the league broadcasted their championship on New Year's Eve. This certainly offers competition from year-end parties but also means less serious opposition from other networks and a solid amount of people at home waiting for the ball to drop.

This year, the PFL had competition from NBA regular-season games and AEW 'Dynamite' on TNT. As well as the World Series on FOX. The league also postponed the season from 2020 to this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That surely could have hurt any momentum the league built in 2019.

The PFL also signed two former UFC champions and a Bellator champion for the 2021 season, to pull in more casual MMA fans. However, Fabricio Werdum, Anthony Pettis, and Rory MacDonald did not make it to the league championship event. Their two big ticket-free agents from the UFC did not even make it to the league's playoff events over the summer.

UPDATE (12:55 pm ET) was contacted by a representative from the PFL to inform the site that along with the numbers for the PFL Championship calculated by the Nielsen rating system, the broadcast allegedly also earned "over 400,000" views on streaming service ESPN+. The representative could not offer any specific documentation on the number they were given directly from ESPN.