"Some people are sending [us] emails going, ‘You guys are crazy going [to Salt Lake City] on a Sunday; it’s a holy day’…We’re going there on a Sunday. We’re going to Salt Lake City, Utah, and we’re going to put on an event…Talk to God and let him give you the day off to come watch." — Dana White, 4/22/10
Well, God has spoken, and he says "no dice." Due to sluggish ticket sales, the UFC on Versus 2 event scheduled for August 1st at the EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City has been canceled, and will instead be held at the San Diego Sports Arena. Said Dana: "Our television ratings in Salt Lake City have always been strong. When we finally found the opportunity to bring a UFC event there with a great card, I was very surprised and disappointed in ticket sales."
Fans who purchased tickets to the Salt Lake City event will receive a full refund, and tickets to the show at the San Diego venue go on sale this Saturday at 10 a.m. According to DW, it’s the first time in the company’s history that a venue has been changed after tickets already went on sale; UFC 12 comes to mind as an exception, but still, this is basically unprecedented. So what does it mean?
In the wake of secondary-market ticket struggles in Vancouver (oh, those poor scalpers!), Michael David Smith at MMAFighting.com points to the Salt Lake City situation as a sign that the UFC’s period of exponential growth has officially come to an end. While that may be true in general, I don’t think you can draw that conclusion just from a weak showing at UFC 115 — which featured a makeshift main event that didn’t capture fans’ imaginations, in a city that didn’t roll out the red carpet — and poor ticket sales for a Sunday night show in SLC. Keep in mind that Utah is the most devoutly religious state in the union. It’s not that Utah residents aren’t interested in MMA; MMA Weekly points out that a recent show in Orem headlined by Josh Burkman drew 8,000 fans on a Friday night. It’s just that they can’t make it out on the Lord’s Day.
Planning a Sunday night show in Utah is a lot like planning a second event in Germany after the UFC was banned from television, or even going to Vancouver to begin with, with its openly hostile athletic commission: It’s the UFC trying to force their brand into a market despite obvious roadblocks. Of course, no progress comes easily, and backlash in certain areas is to be expected. But political groundwork needs to be laid before you show up in a city that doesn’t really want you there.