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.