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Is The UFC’s Counter-Programming Strategy Working?

(‘Ultimate Iceman’: an excellent ratio of MMA buzz words.)

Never ones to sit on their hands while a competitor plans to usurp their throne, the UFC worked with Spike TV to try and distract would-be viewers from Elite XC: Primetime on Saturday night with their own counter-programming in the form of ‘Ultimate Iceman.’ The thinking here was fairly simple: hardcore MMA fans will feel compelled to watch Elite XC (if they’re home watching TV at all), but more casual fans might be swayed by a night of Chuck Liddell.

It’s not a bad strategy. Based on the informal research I’ve done in bars over the years, casual fans tend to know two things about MMA. One is that they like Chuck Liddell because he has a mohawk and knocks people out. The other is that Chuck Liddell is sometimes called “The Iceman.” Occasionally these people seem unaware that he has a real name, referring to him simply as “Iceman,” which instantly makes me wonder if the conversation hasn’t shifted to Val Kilmer’s performance in Top Gun (totally underrated, by the way).

But while this makes sense for the UFC and for Spike TV — especially considering that they don’t have much in the way of quality programming — the question is, is it working? The answer, according to the numbers, is kind of.

‘Ultimate Iceman’ drew 1.6 million viewers on Saturday night (that’s a 1.2 rating), when it aired opposite Elite XC: Primetime. By comparison, Elite XC peaked with 6.51 million viewers for the main event, almost double their first half-hour, where they had 3.38 million. If Spike TV’s efforts made a small dent in that action, you have to assume that both they and the UFC are pleased. But something about the way they’re trying so hard to downplay Elite XC’s ratings success makes them seem more envious than confident.

MMA Payout quotes Spike TV as relaying the following message:

More on Elite XC: Rank Among CBS Primetime Telecasts: of 497th Primetime telecasts this year on CBS, Elite XC ranks 468th in average audience. Among the key advertiser-desired demo of M18-34, the CBS event had a lower rating than Spike’s UFC 70, UFC 75 and Ken/Tito 10/06. The median age for CBS (41 years) was over a decade older than what Spike sees for UFC live fights.

The “median age” argument is somewhat flawed to begin with, because older people tend to watch more network TV and less cable (unless it’s the Weather or History channels). Older people also tend to watch far less Spike TV, presumably because their years of experience have already taught them all the “Manswers” they need in life.

But what does it mean if the UFC events that aired live on Spike outpaced the Elite XC broadcast on network TV as a whole? It might simply mean that because Spike has benefited so much from the success of the UFC, they’re more willing to help the UFC with advertising and marketing efforts. CBS has a few other things going on, as you might have noticed, and with Sumner Redstone’s comments they seemed to be taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach to airing MMA from the start.

Either way, both Spike TV and the UFC seem determined to get their share of press out the Elite XC network debut. Just the fact that they feel compelled to discuss it at all, rather than focus on solely on their own upcoming offerings, is interesting enough. Could it be that the UFC is feeling the pressure from Elite XC’s ratings success? Or will this only make Spike and the UFC circle the wagons in the coming months to make sure they stay at the top of the MMA foodchain?

We’ll have to wait and see, but this does make me think that there’s a lot to be said for having a cable network so solidly behind your organization. I suppose they don’t have much choice when the rest of their lineup is comprised of police chase videos, bear maulings, and extended debates on fake breasts. “Ultimate Iceman” is practically Shakespeare compared to that.

(-Ben Fowlkes)


Cagepotato Comments

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DADDY- December 2, 2008 at 4:10 am
sol- June 3, 2008 at 8:55 pm
One question i have is, what does 6.51million translate to as a tv rating?

It might just be 6.51 but i think i remember reading somewhere that WWE RAW draws like 3.5 and thats 5 million people

Thanks in advance.
DonnyG- June 3, 2008 at 6:04 pm
Don't forget the UFC counter programming only had its full effect on the east coast. EXC was tape delayed three hours on the west coast. The UFC stuff started and ended before EXC even started. Al least it did on DirecTV.
Mistassmo- June 3, 2008 at 3:23 pm
Wow I'm actually quite surprised with the level of disappointment over the Elite XC free broadcast show. We know that these guys aren't the A level fighters, but some of these guys will be one day, (I have to agree that the Kimbo fight was called prematurely, yet Glassjaw was just about broke, in any case). we should be encouraging the free promotions on live TV not acting like spoiled children cause we got juice instead of soda, bunch of whiney fruits. Also consider that the more publicity MMA gets on regularly scheduled TV, the morepeople around the globe will be forced to consider mma as a LEGITIMATE SPORT, them maybe the fighters can be paid half as much as boxers....
05BUSArider- June 3, 2008 at 3:16 pm
That show sucked!!!! At least Spike (UFC) had something for me to watch during EliteXC's bullshit, commercials and most of the fights. Thank God for "back" buttons on the remote.
willum- June 3, 2008 at 3:11 pm
Fighting is Fighting, it shouldnt matter what company it is,the only things EliteXC should be embarrassed about is letting phil baroni do that lame-ass entrance and having improfessional refs and doctors.
Chuck- June 3, 2008 at 3:07 pm
I found it pretty ironic that the UFC was trying to essentially block viewers from seeing the EliteXC by being drawn into watching the Ultimate Iceman show in the same time slot. I got lucky in my time zone and was able to watch the Iceman documentary, the Liddell vs. Silva show, and the EliteXC show all basically back to back. Looks like the UFC's plan backfired a bit!
C-Bus Allstar- June 3, 2008 at 1:05 pm
Patrick, I think your car comparison was a good idea, wrong cars though.

It more like, the UFC is a Honda Civic. Reliable, efficient, always performs, not real flashy or fancy, but it gets you from A to B, every time.

EliteXC is.. well.. you were pretty on the money about this one, it's an 80's model Old-School with Chameleon Paint, and 24" rims. The engine sucks, it's slow, it rarely starts without a hiccup, and you're constantly dumping gallon after gallon of gas into it, BUT it looks perty.
cw- June 3, 2008 at 12:55 pm
I'd watch the 'weather of history' channel. Sounds interesting. More interesting than say, cheerleaders, Busta Rhymes and dumb early stoppages.
Myles Kilometers- June 3, 2008 at 12:37 pm
In my eagerness I typed "signs" instead of "sounds" you probably shouldn't hire me as a proof reader.

Even with my typo, I think that still makes me overqualified to be an MMA blogger.

bfowlkes- June 3, 2008 at 12:35 pm
Ah, dammit. Thanks Myles. How come none of the rest of you caught that typo? You people really let me down. I might have to start reading my own stuff carefully, and God knows I don't want that.
Myles Kilometers- June 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm
"The Weather of History channels" signs like a nerdily awesome documentary.
Vegas- June 3, 2008 at 12:11 pm
@Yo Yo Mother-

At least the XFL was fun to watch.. sometimes. The no fair catch thing was pretty cool, so were some of the camera angles. Just a horrible execution from the owners.

EliteXC on the other hand makes me want to gouge my eyes out.
alan- June 3, 2008 at 10:53 am
Lol the UFC wont have any problems with the elitexc specially after the last elitexc show lol the kimbo fight was totally bs and you could see it in him and his team mates,UFC #1 always
sol- June 3, 2008 at 10:03 am
@Jeff- At least Chuck backed it up in the cage.

Honestly though, what kind of ratings do you reckon UFC would get on National Television with all their cash cows on the card? Im willing to bet they would wipe the floor with EliteXC
tully- June 3, 2008 at 9:43 am
i dont care too much about the ratings really. i dont see any plausible way the ufc could fall off or one of the smaller orginizations could get up to there level. a lot of people watch arena football but most if not all of those people would rather be watching the nfl. the ufc is the nfl the others are arena football. arena football doesnt get better than the nfl because the best players wanna play in the nfl and people want to see the best players. best fighters are in ufc, best fighters wanna fight the best, ufc is where they go to do that. unless there is an enormous abrupt change in the talent levels, no matter how many free shows elitexc or wec gives, the ufc will stay on top.
Jeff- June 3, 2008 at 5:33 am
If this Kimbo thing gets any bigger we're gonna sorely miss the days of Chuck fanbois...
Yo Yo Mother- June 3, 2008 at 5:01 am
Ha this Elite XC stuff is similar to a rogue startup football organization called the XFL. They drew HUGE ratings in their first week, remember? We should start calling it EliteXFL.
Yo Yo Mother- June 3, 2008 at 5:01 am
Ha this Elite XC stuff is eeeeeeerily similar to a rogue startup football organization called the XFL. They drew HUGE ratings in their first week, remember?
Trsigley- June 3, 2008 at 3:28 am
How do you guys think I feel.....I paid $72 to see that crap. You can hate on the UFC, but the UFC is the NFL of's just reality.
Patrick- June 3, 2008 at 2:38 am
Of course, no disrespect to the fighters. Can't hate them for trying to make a living.
But EliteXC is still trash.
I don't give a shit about the ratings.

Billions of people eat at McDonald's but that doesn't make it fine dining....or even any fucking good at all.
lolwut- June 3, 2008 at 2:19 am
ah patrick i see u feel as much hatred toward elite xc as me. I dont make fun of any fighters but damn im sure as hell gonna make fun of this shitstain of a company. DREAM, UFC, IFL, WEC, KOTC, and im missing a few , are way better that this shit. Sure they dont have cool flashy lights and shit but at least they dont have faggoty ass doctors and refs who get payed off by cbs to be cunts and stop shit prematurely. O and wtf was up with that colon judge scoring the second round for kimbo.
Vess- June 3, 2008 at 1:56 am
Hopefully Spike reruns the Iceman documentry, I was one of those people who was conned into watching that CBS atrocity. UFC I will never turn my back on you ever again. I feel like a traitor, so dirty.
The Survivalist- June 3, 2008 at 1:32 am
Kimbo is a hoax!
Patrick- June 3, 2008 at 1:15 am
The UFC has nothing to be jealous of.
EliteXC is second rate garbage.
EliteXC is a steaming pile of dogshit bedazzled with sequins and cubic zirconias.

Here's an easy to understand analogy of how UFC compares to EliteXC.

The UFC is a Ferrari Enzo.
EliteXC is an 87' Buick Regal with a cheap chameleon paintjob and 30" rims.

I respect many other organizations other than the UFC, just not EliteXC.