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