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Friday Night Fights: Who Will Win the Ratings War Between Bellator and ‘TUF’?

(Will MMA finally be able to overcome the mythical Friday Night Death Slot?)

By Jason Moles

Last week, it was announced that Bellator Fighting Championships would be changing the night they broadcast their weekly fights, beginning with their Season 6 tournaments in March 2012.

Instead of competing for an audience on Saturday nights, when most fans are preoccupied with UFC pay-per-views and college football, Bjorn Rebney in conjunction with Viacom, has determined the best night for the largest number of MMA fans to enjoy the show is Friday. Good choice? Perhaps.

Also airing on Friday nights starting in 2012 is the UFC’s flagship reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. In its fifteenth season, Zuffa decided to mix it up a bit in hopes of revitalizing fan interest and attracting new viewers by airing the fights live.

So will Bellator gain any ground if they’re still competing with the world’s largest MMA promotion? Will the in-house shenanigans, trash-talking coaches, and UFC brand be able to attract a larger audience than an entire night of live fights, some of which have been classified as ‘Super‘? Not only can we not be in two places at once, we can’t watch two television programs at the same time either. So, who wins the ratings war?

If you’re the type of person who roots against Lebron James, Jon Jones, or the Los Angeles Lakers, chances are you’re probably going to slam the UFC as well. In which case, you and your buddies probably chat it up on the bar stools or at the water cooler about how The Ultimate Fighter is stale, annoying, and that one lousy fight doesn’t motivate you to watch fifty minutes of predictable Real World-esque antics sans hot chicks.

Bellator on the other hand, offers four fights that actually have meaning, scraps that can possibly materialize into Fight of the Year candidates. You’ll witness up-and-comers, veterans looking to bounce back, and everything in between battle it out for a novelty-sized check and a title belt — not because they want to be on TV, sign autographs and bang broads. From a fan’s perspective, there’s more to life than making chicken salad out of chicken sh*t.

While those arguments are logical enough in their own right, you’d be foolish to overlook the fact that MTV2 (Bellator’s home for one more year) is in roughly 80 million homes, while FX (TUF‘s new home) is sitting pretty at 98 million. When Bellator’s Spike deal kicks off in 2013, they’ll regain a slight edge in cable broadcast reach against FX, but for next year they’ll be at a clear competitive disadvantage.

Over the past decade, UFC has become synonymous with mixed martial arts. Audiences come to expect a certain level of production and sizzle from their MMA, which is something the UFC has been able to deliver better than anybody. For that reason alone, casual observers are betting on them to claim Friday nights as their own. Thanks in large part to their pioneering work with social media, the brand loyalty held by the UFC is unrivaled, and unprecedented. While fans of other professional sports might have loyalty to their favorite teams and players, they don’t have the same emotional connection to the leagues themselves. (I doubt David Stern gets many requests from grown men asking to sit in his lap these days.)

Another reason no one in Vegas is worried about going toe-to-toe with Bellator is the fresh format in store which includes a voting system similar to American Idol where fans can choose who they want to see face next. Allowing viewers to hand-pick the next fight is reason enough to make TUF the Friday night go-to for MMA fans.

Why are ‘voting enabled’ shows so darn popular? Two reasons: We love watching people humiliate themselves (think of the Idol reject who is convinced of their talent) and we love feeling like we’re a part of something. When we vote, we believe that our voice matters thus strengthening our appreciation of the show. Who could resist a company that asks them what they want? The fifteenth season of TUF will prove this true.

So who do you think will win the ratings war on Friday nights in 2012? Will you tune in to watch another guy fight and lose to Hector Lombard, or are you more a fan of doors getting smashed and food getting inseminated? Whichever side you fall on, you can rest assured that if one starts bludgeoning the other to a bloody pulp, the other will tap out and live to see a new day (I’m hoping for Wednesday). There is far too much money at risk to settle for being number two in a world that only cares about numero uno.

Cagepotato Comments

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cdub- December 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm
O Chan- December 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm
TUF will win based purely on channel position in the major markets. FX is a fully distributed network and is able to negotiate a higher channel position to distributors (NY Time Warner has it at channel 10 whereas MTV2 is way in the 100s). Based on this fact alone, more "flippers" will tend to come across TUF before Bellator. Add in the fact that MTV2's distribution may be even more distorted based on what cable package tier it falls in. FX will be found on most basic cable packages, whereas MTV2 might lag behind in certain markets. On the flipside, FuelTV isn't included in some cable package tiers (it's not on my package for that matter).
@Jason Moles - As in DVR factor goes, your link doesn't provide a crucial point regarding the usage. Demographics. DVR tends to be a tool used by the younger generation (A18-34/18-49). You are simply not going to get many people in the A45+ demo with the DVR usage. That said, as long as those younger demos mentioned are the majority DVR users, then based on the C3 ratings system, TUF and Bellator could come closer than you would expect. The final decision will be based on the total distributions levels. However, I'm sure if you do the apples to oranges comparison (ie comparing how the shows do in MTV2 and FX based on their respective universes) I'm quite confident that the stories will be similar.
Finally, while Nielson has a completely separate way of measuring these numbers, there is another factor that could influence the amount of eye-balls see the program. It's a Friday night, people are out at a bar, are they going to show a reality show? Or are they going to show actual fights? Granted, they might choose none of the above and show whatever MLB/NBA/NCAA/NHL game that's on... Or if you live in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, some old movie from the 60s with the sound turned off and weird Indy rock playing in the background. But that would be something else I would consider. Most people in the M18-34/49 demo are probably out on a Friday night, and not in watching TV (which goes back to the DVR argument).
That's my 2 cents. Xeno, gonna counter?
MMAIndiana- December 15, 2011 at 11:13 am
You are completely ignoring one very important fact:

MTV2 is not in HD, while Spike is carried in HD by most cable/satellite providers. That is a huge advantage.
XENOPHON- December 15, 2011 at 9:43 am
I read it, and posted. Like I said, the lunch pale kids on TUF are for the most part amateur punks and junior pro compared to the talent on Bellator.
Maybe some of you forgot Junie Brownie or Captain Doommie or the other 100's of Starnesie-esque flunkies who failed, broke, or ran away.
RwilsonR- December 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm
Same thing as Mofo... couldn't take the title of this article seriously, so I stopped reading.
XENOPHON- December 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm
Bellator will have the better fights. I watched a re-run of TUF the other night, and it looked like high school kids in a back lot settling a score over some tramp.
Try to type and leave
a space between the sentences.
You can't unless you use some letter
or symbol.
Fried Taco- December 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm
Alhough the number of Strikeforce viewers that have DVRs is close to 100%, because no one can stand to listen to that much Mauro.
Jason Moles- December 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm
[BREAKING] Most of you still don't have dvr. according to TV by the Numbers
Miles- December 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm
why do people
type like this
Me likey- December 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm
i am with taco. i dvr everything now and fast forward through all the bs anyway.
Fried Taco- December 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm
I'll DVR both and watch them later, sans commercials.
Mofo- December 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm
Wow, not a good title. Haven't read the article but I can already answer the question: The UFC will win.
If you want to draw in the audience, you need a title like "UFC may win the battle, but Bellator may win the war" (who knows, with Viacom behind them it's not impossible)