We don’t know about you, but as we were watching last weekend’s UFC on FX 3 event in our various states of drunken stupor, we couldn’t help but notice a few glaring observations. The first was that the term “dicknailed” will always be both appropriate and hilarious when describing knockouts like the one Mike Pyle delivered on Josh Neer in the first round of their welterweight affair. The second revelation, however, was much more disheartening. As we looked past the fighters and into the stands, it was pretty shocking to see how little of a crowd was actually in attendance. “What is this, a Super Fight League card?” we said to ourselves, then collectively tweeted to one another like a bunch of snickering high school girls. But the simple truth is, our Stalter and Waldorf attitudes were nothing more than a defense mechanism, a cover, if you will, for something we feared might be happening: The UFC is stretching themselves a little thin.
Sure, UFC on FX 3 was as under-promoted as it was lacking any sort of star power, so much so that I will personally admit to all but completely forgetting about its existence until BG reminded us why we should be stoked in the first place. And sure, as with this season of The Ultimate Fighter, the fact that the card was scheduled for a Friday night surely didn’t help gain any new viewers either (a move that should most certainly be retracted next season if TUF ever hopes to recover ratings wise). Be that as it may, the real problem with last weekend’s card was certainly not that of the fight quality (because they were all great fights), but rather part of the looming, aforementioned over-saturation problem the UFC may find themselves facing. And here’s why.
As the UFC has increased its number of fight cards seemingly exponentially over the past few years, each individual card has in turn lost a significant amount of hype amongst its audience. This may just be subjectivity on our part, but we feel as if most of you would more or less agree with this point. We’re not going to act like the UFC’s marketing department doesn’t know how to milk the shit out of a “grudge match” or title fight, but when comparing the UFC’s schedule, say, five years ago, to its current one, the most obvious difference one can notice is the amount of cards held per year. In 2007, the UFC held 19 events, with an average of one pay-per-view card being held each month with some Fight Night and TUF Finale cards sprinkled throughout. In 2011, the UFC put out 26 cards, with nine of them being either Fight Night, TUF Finale, or UFC Live type cards, which have never done great in terms of viewership. Although there may not be a direct correlation between these two things, would it surprise you to learn that last year was the UFC’s worst year for PPV buys since 2008, with the average buy rate being the worst since 2007? The UFC’s total buyrate dropped from 9.215 million in 2010 to just 6.79 million last year, and while Dana White is willing to pass off last weekend’s abysmal attendance/TV ratings to Florida being a shitty place for MMA, we think there may be other issues at hand. For instance, the UFC’s last trip to Florida, which was headlined by Rashad Evans vs. Sean Salmon, drew both a higher gate and attendance than last weekend’s event.
But before we get into all that, we’d like you to think back to mid-2007, if your brains aren’t too clogged with malted hops and bong resin to do so. Chuck Liddell was still the baddest man on the planet (until May 26th came around) and Randy Couture had just capped off the most improbable career comeback in ever by defeating Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 in March, capturing the heavyweight title once again in the process. Sound familiar? It should, because to this day, UFC 68 still holds the record for being the largest attended MMA event in the United States.
And it was headlined by Tim “Fatty Boom-Boom” Sylvia.
As you can see, it’s not like the cards just a few years ago were exactly stacked with more talent compared to today’s average card. Then why, pray tell, were we seemingly more excited for them? The answer is simply because just five years ago, it was almost a privilege to witness a UFC event. We’re not trying to act like hipsters here, but before the UFC started gaining network deals left and right, it wasn’t every weekend that we were treated to the gift that is a fight card, as is nearly the case today.
When big fights were more sparsely scattered throughout the year, each individual card was given a few weeks more time to stew, if you will, and gain interest from any on-the-fence fans that may have existed at the time. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the UFC’s current policy of jamming two, and sometimes three cards into a month gives even the most enthusiastic fans little time to truly take stock of a given fight before another is billed as “the next big thing in the ______ division.”
As the kind of fan that simply cannot get enough of the sport, the idea of being treated to more fights for free excited me more than when I received my first Nintendo 64 for Christmas, but even I am a little overwhelmed by the amount of unknown and less than intriguing matchups that are being put before me these days. Then again, fans like myself (and most of the Potato Nation staff/readers) are not the kind of fans that the UFC is trying to reel in. Because the “hardcore” fans will always stand by the sport we love, until it becomes insanely obvious that the fights are being fixed, that is. The UFC is trying to bring in new markets, different crowds, and wider audiences to truly lift the sport into the realm of the NBA and NFL, but the difference between the “major” sports and the UFC is that those sports have an off season for both fans and players to recover, rebuild their rosters, and hype the upcoming season. The fact the the UFC has no off period is both a blessing and a curse, because it gives the fans so little time to do this. The closest thing to an off season an MMA fan ever had used to be the four or so weeks off in between cards, but the abundance of events to spring up in the past few years have perhaps spoiled us a bit in the process. In short, there’s a reason that March Madness blows the roof off of most other sporting events in terms of pure hype and interest. In fact, we guarantee that most of you, college basketball fans or not, at least filled out one bracket to partake in the festivities this year. Hell, your grandmothers probably did.
But the problem the UFC is facing is that, by simply delivering quantity over quality, they might just be risking over-saturating their market in terms of interest. The fact that injuries have wiped out nearly every fight we were looking forward to this summer surely isn’t helping matters, but the problems these weak cards face could just as easily be solved by combining the best matchups from a couple of cards into one stacked lineup. Let’s be real here, Aldo vs. Koch (now Faber vs. Barao), Munoz vs. Weidman, and Shogun vs. Vera are pretty pathetic headliners for a sport that has nearly acquired a monopoly on the sport’s top talent, and unless there are some major changes made, the buyrate for these events will likely reflect the lack of exciting matchups at hand. While combining/spacing events may mean that the promotion has to sideline, or even cut, some of it’s lesser fighters is an unfortunate side effect, but the UFC actually has the roster to deliver amazing cards capable of reaching the Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones levels of PPV buys every time if those in charge would just space out them out on occasion.
Look no further than the UFC on FOX’s downwardly spiraling ratings if you need proof of this. The first event, which only featured one fight, mind you, reeled in over five and a half million viewers. Why? Because the one and only fight they showed was a title fight between an undefeated champion and the most deadly number one contender known to man. The fight sells itself. Trying to sell a pair of “number one contender” bouts between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis or Jim Miller and Nate Diaz is not as easy of a task, regardless of how good (or in Evans/Davis’ case, bad) the fights are, simply because there is not as much at stake to garner interest. Again, last minute injuries were partially to blame for some of the FOX ratings, but so were the matchups. The upcoming UFC on FOX 4 event will likely see an even farther drop down the rankings due to this same issue as well.
Look at it this way, you wouldn’t headline a PPV card with any of those fights excluding Velasquez/dos Santos, and perhaps that is what some of the new fans are starting to realize. Being a business that wants to make money, the UFC saves its best cards for PPV’s, because who wouldn’t, and shell out mediocre to above average cards for live TV. And some fans may be sick of being fed the scraps.
To reiterate, I personally will never complain about free fights, but am rather simply pointing out what seems to be a trend in the UFC’s plateau of popularity as of late. And I’d rather not have my ass chewed out by DW for making such an observation, so at this point, I’d like to turn the focus on you Taters. Do you think the UFC could be giving its new fans too much, too fast? Or is even bringing up such a notion insanely idiotic?
Let us know in the comments section.