UFC president Dana White appeared on ESPN First Take today (thanks to our friends at MMA Fanhouse for the heads up) to talk UFC 91, and it seems he isn’t backing down from his earlier prediction that this event would do over a million pay-per-view buys. This time White got even more specific with his figures:
“We think it’s going to be the biggest pay-per-view draw in UFC history,” White said. “We think we’re going to do 1.2 million buys on this fight. It’s a big fight, the WWE cross-over for this fight, a lot of WWE fans are going to tune in to see if their former wrestling champion can win in a real fight. Vince McMahon might even buy this fight.”
One hopes that White is relying on some kind of consumer research, as he has claimed in the past, and not just spouting off a number. But 1.2 million buys, in the midst of a recession? That’s the kind of claim that makes me want to call ‘shenanigans,’ as the kids say.
The shakiest part of this logic is the dependence on the curiosity of the WWE crossover audience, especially the portion of that audience that typically passes on buying UFC events. This is Brock Lesnar‘s third UFC fight. Granted, it’s his biggest one yet, but only fans who follow the UFC enough to realize the importance of Randy Couture appreciate that.
To the casual WWE fan that White is depending on, isn’t this just another Brock Lesnar fight? And if these WWE fans are so eager to see Lesnar in a real fight, wouldn’t they have been just as willing to pay for his first big fight against Frank Mir?
Maybe they were. UFC 81, which featured Mir-Lesnar and Nogueira-Sylvia as co-main events, did an estimated 650,000 buys. UFC 87, where Lesnar beat Heath Herring on the same card as Georges St. Pierre‘s successful title defense against Jon Fitch, did somewhere in the neighborhood of 625,000, according to the most generous estimates.
Those are great numbers. If they’re accurate, they represent two of the UFC’s most successful pay-per-view events of 2008 thus far. But in order for White’s prediction to pan out, UFC 91 would have to pull in roughly twice the viewers with a card that is, on the whole, not nearly as good as either UFC 81 or 87. Each of the other events featured big name title fights in addition to Lesnar’s bout. This time around, Lesnar is in the big name title fight, but beyond that the card looks like a very solid Fight Night event on Spike TV.
And this is supposed to pull 1.2 million buys?
Based on this year’s numbers, you could make an argument that Lesnar is the UFC’s biggest draw right now, which lends credence to White’s faith in WWE fans as avid pay-per-view buyers. But the gulf between what we’ve seen thus far and White’s prediction is simply too great. UFC 91 could turn out to be the biggest event of the year (in spite of its weak undercard) and still not come close to breaking one million buys.
1.2 million, especially for an event with slow ticket sales, might be nothing more than a pleasant but outlandish dream.