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CagePotato Open Discussion: Is the UFC Over-Saturating Its Market?

(A stranglehold on the competition, or on the sport in general?) 

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.

And featured a co-main event of Rich Franklin vs. Jason MacDonald.

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.

-J. Jones

Cagepotato Comments

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macreadysshack- June 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm
"Then why, pretell, were we seemingly more excited for them?" - Hey, pretell me who is going to win on the next card so I can get my parlay straight. Oh, did you mean 'pray tell'?
J-Dog- June 12, 2012 at 3:35 pm
Definitely. They need to cut down on the PPV frequency quite a bit. When you look at a decline ni PPV buys, you have to look at the fact that the UFC has become way more accessible, which is taking away PPV buys. For example, when I first started watching UFC events, you needed to be there or buy the VHS tape later. Then PPV came around and it was be there, buy the PPV, or buy/rent the tape/DVD later. No other choices. Now I can go to any one of several local bars in my area that will show the fight for FREE. Why buy? I haven't bought a PPV in a few years now, and I used to buy every single one. That's my story. Hell, I don't even go out to see every one these days, because I do have a life outside of working and watching MMA. Sometimes I have to spend time with my family - I can't take a Saturday night off to watch fights all that often. That's my story.
drainplugofideas- June 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm
The answer to your question is yes.
thenutman69321- June 12, 2012 at 9:22 am
They've definitely started putting on to many fights. I used to never miss a single event under any circumstances, PPV, free, or Ultimate Fighter. Now there is no way in hell I will watch any non PPV's, I probably only watch about 75% of the PPV's, and I skim through seasons of the Ultimate Fighter. It's just to much garbage event after garbage event, they need to cut back to how it was just a couple years ago, they are on the verge of becoming boxing, so many fights that no one gives a flying fuck about.
Latosha Poindexter- June 12, 2012 at 12:12 am
It should, because to this day, UFC 68 still holds the record for being the largest attended MMA event in the United States.
Latosha Poindexter- June 12, 2012 at 12:11 am
1 million people watching a Tuesday night fight on fuel is about 950,000 more people than Fuel would normally have tuning in.
Mir please break Brocks neck- June 11, 2012 at 11:21 pm
Alright.... Here's a few thoughts that Im sure some of you have thought of.....but havent said it yet. Ok. Ready? The UFC puts SHIT fights in REDNECK and low-income states around the USA to shut up fans who want a 'live' event in their state. There. I said it. But c'mon. If YOU guys (not literally speaking) had a business....and you were in the business of MAKING MONEY..... would YOU seriously have a PPV in a venue in Pittsburgh or North Carolina or in fucking Kentucky? NO -YOU-WOULD-NOT!!!! Hence, those toothless states where its "OK" to date a cousin will never get 'star-power'. Why should they? Are you gonna put a GSP fight in Boise, Idaho if you are a 'smart' business man? I think not. Sorry of this post 'hurts' your feelings.....but this is how 'it is'. As far as that photo showing empty seats up there.... its a shit venue....with a shit card. Empty seats are expected. As for the 'over-saturating question'.....I disagree. My neighborhood is SWAMPED with Karate/BJJ/Muay Tai dojo's opening up everywhere.....and trust me...Bruce Lee had NOTHING to do with this 'boom'. Its all due to the UFC. If anything....the UFC is creating work and jobs and social gym-memberships for those whom want to be legal lethal killers whom walk among us. While Im here.....FRANK MIR FOR PRESIDENT!!!! Is cagepotato hiring writers???? Im available.
4th and Schlong- June 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm
The UFC has undoubtedly watered down their content and to the detriment of potential fans. I never miss a card no matter how paltry it may be; but if I where a potential fan tuning in to see what the UFC was about and I saw UFC on FX 3, I would be far from impressed. There was a time not to long ago that a UFC card was an event worth planning around. I would be more than willing to fork over 60$, have a bbq, a party, and all to see great fighters in great fights. Now a days I am content to DVR most of the fights and watch them Sunday evenings, alone, sometimes without a beer even. The WEC served a purpose, and that purpose was to fill these Friday night and Tuesday night Cards, leave the big Fights to the big boys. As far as viewership goes though I am sure its all relative. 1 million people watching a Tuesday night fight on fuel is about 950,000 more people than Fuel would normally have tuning in.
Get Off Me- June 11, 2012 at 8:02 pm
The UFC not having an off season is "A" difference from other major sports, but it is not "THE" difference that needs to be highlighted in examining the UFC's current state. I'd write an article but it would not be published, so I will make it short and sweet...all the popular mainstream professional/collegiate sports share one common bond that the UFC lacks....Transparency. This past card is a prime example of how little the UFC has done to curtail the lack of connection they have with the audience. 30-27De Rocha and he loses the fight by split, which was obvious he lost two rounds in the fight to the audience....or not...who know's? You don't get that shit with other major sports, tennis has no off season and has tons of events. The WWF grew from 4 ppv's and some tv specials to working 250 shows a year with monthly ppv's. The UFC's model is strong, Zuffa is a promoting machine, but they have to twerk the rules(like all other majors sports did in their infancy) and capitivate the audience by offering finality and transparency, meaning what you see is what it you think pacman/bradley helped boxing? UFC needs to work on the rules to take the fights out of the judges hands, work on rules that lesson the interpretation required by a judge, work with athletic commission to train judges to judge all aspects of mma, pay fighters more so they can train fulltime and not part time, there's a difference in the final product. Until the UFC starts on all that, they could offer as little or as many events as they like, fans won't pay money, get invested into a sport that they only think they understand.
drainplugofideas- June 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm
The UFC can't control the judging. What you should be saying is that the commissions that sanction these fights should be more transparent.
Get Off Me- June 12, 2012 at 6:32 pm
Again, I could write a whole article, but CP won't put it up. The UFC can control judging by manipulating the rules, taking the interpretation out of the judges hands i.e. standing fighters who stay inside full guard for 60 consecutive seconds. No more one takedown, no advance of position(no reset from ref 80%, not 100%, 80%ish of the time) 5 sub attempts from the bottom, 10-9 for the fighter who scored the takedown 95% percent of the time(see de rocha example vs Ellenberger and aforementioned Pierce fight). UFC set 5 rd main events without a comission's direction, perhaps they explore submitting rule changes to their sport...see how rule changes go wrong(bosse/thompson quebec)...the UFC can make/request/develop changes in their product to connect better with the audience. Ask yourself how we can take away a refs discretion while making a fight simpler to judge ultimately creating a more transparent product? having a set time to stand fighters up for not advancing takes away the Vitor/Johson Woodley/Mein contrast in referee discretion. How many fans boo when a fighter sits in another fighter's guard without advancing for over a minute? By submitting rule changes to the sport they can continue to take away the commissions influence...don't look for the gvt to add funds to improve the athletic commissions(not the ufc either), UFC needs to think about ways where they can change their sport to where commission's have less influence on the product they offer the audience.
J. Jones- June 13, 2012 at 7:24 am
How do you know we wont put it up? Considering we accept articles from basically anyone who wants to write them (that's how I got a job here), your preconceived notions seem a little off base.
Get Off Me- June 13, 2012 at 9:40 am
I know because I sent in an article after the Sherk/Dunham decision and it was not posted...preconceived enough for you? off base enough for you?...the best part is the article highlighted much of what most people are questioning today. If I knew my work would be used, I would not have a problem re-submitting moving forward.
J. Jones- June 13, 2012 at 11:21 am
Alright, alright, calm down. I didn't even work here back then, so I have no idea about what happened to the article you sent in. But do you think every article I, 12oz, or Elias sent in when we were contributing was published? I'm sure if you sent in something else that was worth while, we'd publish it. And you seem like you have the ability to create an intelligent argument, as evident by your posts. If at first you don't know how it goes.
Get Off Me- June 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm
Calm down? I simply responded to what you said... Here's the point(without any anger) I sent a great piece in respectfully and in turn was not even given a generic reply, like nothing.So when u write stuff and get no feedback or acknowledgement(fuck the constructive criticism cause that may take a minute or two) like throwing a bottle into the sea...what's the probabilty you try again. It's a two way street in life, respect is underated.
Anhonestmoose- June 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm
I couldn't agree more. A few years ago I was watching almost every card live. Now, I have better things to do with my Friday/Saturday night than sit through a mediocre UFC offering that I spent $50 on. I watch them the next day online, sans the wasted time between fights, annoying advertisements, and drain on my bank account (seriously, you buy 10 ppv per year and you are spending $500).
leo.herbie- June 11, 2012 at 4:46 pm
I'm a "hardcore" fan so my opinion is skewed. I was thinking the other day along the same lines (sort of). Lets take a trip down memory lane to the land of the rising sun and Pride (I

know the UFC isn't Pride and they don't want to be). What was something everyone loved about Pride (besides the freakshows)? The star power (justified or not)! Even if a fighter wasn't a star taltent wise they made you feel like they were anyway. I just rewatched Pride Shockwave 2003 (I'm rewatching all the Pride events, in order, in case you cared) Look at some of the fighters on this SINGLE card:

Quinton Jackson
Heath Herring
Hayato Sakurai
Murilo Rua
Akira Shoji
Royce Gracie
Don Frye
Gary Goodridge
Mario Sperry
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Kazushi Sakuraba

More than half the fighters on the card are genuine mma stars. Most the other fighter still provide an interesting story:

Ikuhisa Minowa (a well known pro wrestler)
Giant Silva (a freaking huge man)
Hidehiko Yoshida (judo champ, beat Royce in a weird ending)
Daniel Gracie (a Gracie)
Yuki Kondo (King of Pancrase)
Rony Sefo (brother of a great kickboxer)

Sideshow fights aside, what recent UFC card came close to this? To me the UFC seems to be running into several problems. First, they are loosing many of there stars to injury or

retirement like:

Cro Cop
Franklin (he's almost done)

In the next few years several more high profile fighters will be gone like:

Anderson Silva
Wandy Silva
Big & lil Nog
Dan Henderson

Now, I know Pride wasn't perfect and they had plenty of problems like freakshow fights, steriods, fixed fights, financial problems, etc. I don't want the UFC to be like Pride. I just want the UFC events to have the same allule that they had a few years ago like the Pride events.

The UFC seems to be loosing high profile fighters faster than they are developing them. The new breed of superstars (sans J Jones) doesn't seem to have as big of a draw. The lower tiered fighters are simply unknown to anyone but hardcore fans. I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe the UFC should combine shows to have more star power in a single event with less events. Maybe some lower talent fighters should be moved to a b-league (Strikeforce) to develop? Maybe, the answer is finding talent internationally but even so fans need to "care" about a fighter before they will watch an event. Also, the UFC seems to be running the "these guys hate each other bit a little too much" or is it just me? I would at least like to see the UFC hold one or two huge events a year that are packed with stars. Something even casual fans can look forward to (ie super bowl, March madness).

Just my thoughts from a genuine, concerned fan. Dana don't hurt me please ;-)
Qlay- June 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm
Randy Couture is huge star power, and he also headlined UFC fatty boom boom. I dunno if that's a good example to prove your point.
I for one will never get tired of free fights.
J. Jones- June 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm
Agreed, but when looking at the average PPV's buys for the UFC's top fighters, he's below Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida, and BJ Penn in terms of average draws. Combine that with the fact that the UFC reached far less people and spent way less on advertising back in 2007 and it's pretty amazing that UFC 68 still took in what would've been the fourth highest card in PPV buys (540K) of last year.
amsterdamheavy- June 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm
I liked it when we had 1 PPV a month and some other cards thrown in. This last UFC on FX card? I wanted to watch it, and I would have....if I could find my fucking remote control. I couldnt find it and I couldnt be bothered to look for it for this card - I guess that defines my apathy.