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The ‘FOX Boost’ Is a Myth: There’s No Formula to Create New UFC Stars

(Benson Henderson peers warily at the buyrate for UFC 164. / Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

By Matt Saccaro

Congratulations are in order for FOX and the UFC. They took a terrible draw in Benson Henderson and made him into merely a bad draw.

Henderson was partially responsible for one of the worst pay-per-view buyrates in recent UFC history — an estimated 190,000 buys for UFC 150 against fellow failure-to-move-the-needle Frankie Edgar. Henderson was so bad that the UFC kept him off PPV for an entire year after UFC 150, instead preferring to use their shows on FOX to build him up. After these shows, the UFC decided to put Henderson back in a PPV main event at UFC 164, presumably in order to see if FOX turned the ho-hum fighter into a star.

I noted the importance of UFC 164’s PPV performance in a previous article:

If UFC 164 can boast a decent buyrate, then the theory that the UFC can use FOX to create the next generation of stars will be proven true, and the UFC’s future will be a little more secure. But if UFC 164 fails as hard as UFC 150 did — if promoting a fighter TWO TIMES on one of the biggest networks on television failed to make that fighter a draw — then the UFC is in trouble. That would mean one champion who would be dead weight on a card, in addition to the champions from the lighter men’s weight classes who have all yet to establish themselves as major PPV draws.

UFC 164 didn’t perform as poorly as UFC 150. It drew an estimated 270,000 buys.

“That’s great! It’s about a 42% increase over last time,” you say? Yeah, that’s true, but let’s look at it another way.

First, 270k buys for UFC 164 is still way below the 2013 average. Just because Henderson can draw flies to shit now, whereas before he couldn’t, doesn’t mean FOX is a star maker.

Second, Henderson main-evented two FOX shows: UFC on FOX 5 and UFC on FOX 7. The former drew 4.4 million average viewers and the latter garnered 3.7 million average viewers. Together, that’s 8.1 million people that saw Benson Henderson fight for free on FOX.  But the vast majority of these same people still refused to pay for a PPV headlined by Benson Henderson, a UFC “superstar” and world champion.

Again, there was a difference of 80,000 buys between UFC 150 — Bendo’s last PPV appearance before UFC 164 — and UFC 164 itself. And around 8 million people saw Bendo on free TV after UFC 150, but only 80,000 more people ordered UFC 164 than ordered UFC 150.

You know what that means?

It means that only 1% of the combined viewers of UFC on FOX 5 and UFC on FOX 7 were converted into PPV buyers.

That’s bad no matter how you spin it — unless you’re taking the “nearly 50% increase in buys!” angle which is the only way to look at the situation positively. Of course, the numbers given are estimates, so the actual percentages may be slightly higher or lower.

However, that doesn’t mean that the story the estimates convey is inaccurate. Placing a fighter on FOX doesn’t automatically make him or her a Brock Lesnar-level draw, or even an average-level draw. FOX can amplify a fighter’s reach and fan base but it can’t make viewers pay to see a fighter. FOX isn’t a panacea for a fighter that’s not selling PPVs. The only “stars” FOX will help make will be the ones who would’ve drawn well anyway due to their natural charisma or fighting style or simply because they have “it.”

So let’s put this talk of the vaunted FOX boost to rest, OK?

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