Blame the new channel. Blame the new night. Blame viewer fatigue from the five hours of UFC fights on FOX Sports 1 that preceeded it. Blame it on the a, a-a-a, a-al, co-hol. Whatever the explanation is, Wednesday’s The Ultimate Fighter 18: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate premiere didn’t exactly blow up the airwaves, averaging 762,000 viewers, the smallest audience for a season premiere in the show’s history. The number is less than half of the 1.51 million viewers who tuned in to episode 1 of TUF 17: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen, which aired Tuesday nights on FX earlier this year.
The current-record holder for lowest-rated Ultimate Fighter season is TUF 16, which debuted with 947k viewers but went as low as 624k viewers in its fifth episode, and introduced the world to Julian Lane. It seems likely that TUF 18 will sink below TUF 16‘s low-water mark, given the audience drop-off that generally happens after the season premiere. (In a related story, UFC Fight Night 28 brought in just 539,000 viewers on FOX Sports 1 earlier that night — down 35% from the previous week’s Fight Night: Condit vs. Kampmann show in Indianapolis — but I guess that shouldn’t surprise anybody.)
Of course, there’s always a way to spin stories like these, and UFC president Dana White defended the numbers on a UG post last night:
We were #1 on all of cable with M18-34 and M18-49. We also beat out the US Open and the Detroit vs. Red Sox MLB game. This is all part of the building process. We’ve made a commitment to work with FOX to build this network. If you look at all the other networks we’ve ever been on, we consistently pull strong ratings.
The first time we put our prelims on FX, we pulled 880K viewers and it grew, depending on the fight, up to 1.9 million viewers for UFC 156. Also, the TUF season with Carwin and Big Country averged 822K viewers, then Jones vs. Sonnen averaged 1.3 million viewers.
We currently hold the top 4 most watched telecasts on FS1 since the network launched. To be honest, our Prelim and Fight Night numbers weren’t bad considering we started on the west coast at 2pm in the afternoon on a Wednesday. The most important thing is last nights fights were awesome and this season of TUF is great.
Yes, we didn’t pull 1 million+ but we will. But, we also fucked up last night by not starting the main event later so that we could get a live lead into TUF. The bottom line is FOX couldn’t be happier with the UFC and the ratings we’re pulling and we couldn’t be happier with the way we have been treated by the network.
If the UFC is still putting out the most popular content on FOX Sports 1 — and they are, by a wide margin — it’s understandable that Dana would focus on the positives. But soon, the day will come when TUF‘s audience on FS1 drops below Fight Master‘s on Spike, and if that’s not a sign to pull the plug on The Ultimate Fighter, we don’t know what is.