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UFC Learns the Hard Way That Title Fights = PPV Buys

(Antiperspirant is for pussies, apparently. Photo courtesy of Esquire.)

Though all of the big-money fights scheduled for the spring/summer promise to turn their fortunes around, Zuffa has taken some serious hits lately. First we heard that WEC 47 pulled in a dismal 373,000 viewers, which was their second-smallest audience in two years — not exactly the level of heat you want going into your first pay-per-view card. Now, we hear that UFC 110 is trending at an estimated 215,000-240,000 pay-per-view buys, which follows very disappointing performances by UFC 108 and UFC 109. Sure, we all knew the UFC’s fall/winter injury curse would have fans playing pick-and-choose, but the numbers are straight-up grimVia BloodyElbow, here’s how the UFC’s pay-per-view cards have performed starting with the high-water mark of UFC 100 last July:

In 2009 the UFC averaged 620,000 buys per ppv event. If we look at the percentage each event was above or below that average we can definitely see a downward trend from 100.
UFC 100 1,600,000 + 245%
UFC 101 850,000 + 29%
UFC 102 435,000 -30%
UFC 103 375,000 -40%
UFC 104 500,000 -20%
UFC 106 375,000 -40%
UFC 107 620,000 +/- 0
UFC 108 300,000 -51%
UFC 109 275,000 -55%
UFC 110 240,000 -62%
Average with title on line 820,000
Average with non-title main event 370,000

It’s common sense, but we finally have the numbers to support it — fans show up when the fights matter. UFC 107‘s relatively strong showing, an oasis in a desert of limp-wristed buyrates, could be attributed to the BJ Penn/Diego Sanchez lightweight title fight that headlined the card. #107 was preceded by UFC 106, with its main event of Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin  — two guys who are supposed to be draws themselves — and fans responded with a collective "meh." That’s what happens when you put on more frequent cards with fewer available stars (due to injuries) in a down economy.

To me, it also suggests that the UFC’s "legendary" stars like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Rich Franklin, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira — who the UFC has leaned on for main events during this slump — are becoming irrelevant to younger fans, who care a lot more about BJ Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, and Brock Lesnar. The UFC’s next two events should rescue them from this skid, at least temporarily. But they should curb their expectations the next time they headline a card with a non-title-fight between two old guys.

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silviu84- February 8, 2012 at 7:39 am
I wish I had as many comments as you do on my blog. Asbestos Removal
ccman- May 28, 2010 at 8:46 am
I know we are all a lot smarter than those iin charge and making billions and all but does anyone else notice there is finally a hw class worth watching and now were all calling for a split to once again weaken it seem off? Nevermind that going the boxing route of to many weight classes and the financial burden of every other guy having a belt and wanting "champion" money seem like bad business, who would you have as cruiser weight champ? Fyi big nog fights around 255. Or are we creating a weight class for fedor to maybe survive in?
ccman- May 28, 2010 at 8:26 am
I love these no shit articles that have a doom and gloom sound to them. Always reads like a cheering section for them to fail which would suck. Also, The ufc is making a ton of money especially since noones math seems to include that all those bars airing the fights are paying 1200 to 5k to show them. Commercial ppv is based on square footage and number of tv's.
jamz2xcite- March 12, 2010 at 6:35 pm
Haaaaaaaaaa!!!!!! Looks like someone sneezded in his face. LOL
jimbonics- March 12, 2010 at 6:43 am
You guys remember they took out a 100 million dollar loan shortly after ufc100 right? And they sold a stake to that ADCC cat.

So taking Munche's example, 6 million ain't shit.

When you have an event that was as hyped, covered, and stacked as ufc 100 was, you've got nowhere to go but down.
Basically, they were averaging around 400k views prior to 100, and about the same since.
ReX13- March 12, 2010 at 5:58 am
OBI>> I agree that there is a need for a farm league, but WEC is clearly a showcase for top talent at the lighter classes.
KingAtRock- March 11, 2010 at 9:18 pm
I hope ZUFFA isn't so mentally unbalanced to keep blaming piracy as the reason their sales are suffering. STACK the cards every event like its your last show and I'll buy. Otherwise I'm not spending $50 for 2 1/2 hrs of ppv with only 20-30 minutes of entertainment.

If I wanted to get raped I'd go to the movies.
jizzninja- March 11, 2010 at 8:40 pm
@ robthom. Yeah they are more exciting you smart ass fag. The last wec event didn't do too hot but it had more action than all the fights the ufc had in 09
AussieJosh- March 11, 2010 at 8:39 pm
UFC 110 was free in Australia on Free TV! Thats why the numbers were so bad! hahaha
Seriously i cant belive 110 got less numbers then 109! 110 was a way better card! and im not just saying that cause im Aussie!
munche- March 11, 2010 at 7:07 pm
You're a fool if you think they don't rake in a ton of money on these "low" selling events

250k buys is $11M in straight PPV revenue, not counting live gate, merchandise, sponsors, overseas TV deals....even if the PPV companies take half, they've got $6M just on PPV. Let's pretend they had no other source of income, do you really think UFC spent $6M on the last card? The fighter salaries probably just barely capped $1M.

One of the BE commenters said it best...."UFC is making half a gazillion dollars instead of a gazillion dollars"
jimbonics- March 11, 2010 at 6:56 pm
Bud. 105 was free on Spike.
budsellers- March 11, 2010 at 6:16 pm
good points made by most posters in this thread. perhaps the ufc should simply listen to their customers?

not sure why it has not been noticed, but ufc105 is missing from the list... i have to assume that card(w/couture, vera, swick and hardy) did almost as well as ufc106.

definitely more weight classes is the most important change that i would like to see coming soon. i honestly feel that pride had a better set of weight classes, but that could be improved too. in fact i would like to see a class for every 10 pounds from 135-215 plus 235 & 265. that would allow the ufc to have nmore than enough title fights to spread around and a few extra to have available for super cards or even a broadcast station tv card.
cecils_pupils- March 11, 2010 at 4:56 pm
ben Says:
Thu, 03/11/2010 - 14:02

I know everything in business is supposed to be cyclical, but I think this proves that Strikeforce has permanently killed off the UFC, and will be the world's #1 MMA promotion until the end of time.

Ummmmm...huh....NO! Strikeforce has permanently killed off UFC?? Puhleeeaaasse. Ben... you know your shit, but I gotta strongly disagree with you here. Yes, everything is cyclical in business, but so is the economy - and the recession is a huge factor in low PPV buys. Poor economy, lack of title fights and huge drawing fighters on post-UFC100 cards are the reasons for the downward trend in PPV numbers.

For you to say this somehow signals an end to UFC's reign and Strikforce's rise is reeeeaaaching... really reaching.
Old_Bald_and_Irish- March 11, 2010 at 4:55 pm
Wow!....lots of good comments here.

WEC: I don't think it needs to get rolled into the UFC. I like the idea of having it as a "farm league". But it makes no sense for Zuffa to cut the heavier weight divisions! WEC should represent all weights and be an agressive training ground.

Also, as a rabid DirecTV subscriber, I can't tell you how miffed I am that Versus got cut from my programming. This is BS. Zuffa needs to get the WEC on SPIKE PRONTO!

Title Fights: We would see more title fights if more belt holders would actually GET INTO THE CAGE! For God's sake, just a few months ago, Anderson Silva said he wanted to fight 6 times this year! HAVE HIM DO IT! Seems the only guy who is willing to fight all the time, and it pains me to say it, is Josh Koshchek! There is no reason Penn, GSP and A. Silva can't fight at least 3 or 4 times a year.

Also, if the UFC wants their belts to have ANY MEANING, they should follow through on their promises to belt conteders. Henderson smashed Bisping. He should have fought Silva by now. END OF STORY!

I don't mind Zuffa playing around with matchmaking every now and then, but come on! If you want to grow the "next big thing" as a fighter, people need to follow the guy up the ranks.
punches_in_bunches- March 11, 2010 at 4:16 pm
111 is the first one I'll be buying in a while. Shit shows will not get my money.
peanutbuttter- March 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm
When I washed the shampoo out of my eyes, Dana was just standing there, fully-clothed, in my shower.
Zyz Zyx- March 11, 2010 at 3:30 pm
I agree with everyone who said to fold in the WEC and also add a few more weight classes overall. More belts = more potential stars and more PPVs with belts on the line.

In addition, I'd say they need to start doing 5 round fights to determine #1 contender. It would make a main event genuinely important. All of my friends who are casual fans always bitch about a card not having any fights that "matter". If there were a clear ranking system (at least for the top two or three spots - like we currently have in the heavyweight class, fer instance), people would think the fights were more important.
Smitty- March 11, 2010 at 3:25 pm
The PPV's with no title fights still had some "name" fighters that the UFC is supporting. Even though the PPV numbers are lower, so is the payout for the lesser name fighters. The whole world (basically) recognizes the UFC as the premier fighting organization, but we got all these ideas on how "WE" would make it better. Enjoy the fights and STFU!
Kimbos Bread- March 11, 2010 at 3:22 pm
Boys, that shit ain't sweat.
GrimJack- March 11, 2010 at 3:22 pm
Love the 235 lbs Division idea, makes good sense from a competitive standpoint...

As per the PPV drop I know myself and my group of friends would pool money together get a PPV, a big take out from the local wing or sushi place and a few cases of beer. But many of us have been laid off so the fun money is gone. Either keep the cel phone another month or PPV. Many friends have to look/move for work in other locations and make decisions to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid or go drinking and get PPV.

UFC need to understand this and fit the pricing...

KidDinomite- March 11, 2010 at 3:19 pm
Gracie 2.0 - One of the many reasons I'll never pay to see a UFC fight.
fatbellyfrank- March 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm
Agree with you viva hate, have a look at the pricing, if there's no title on the line why should you pay top dollar for that? and combining WEC/UFC is a no brainer, maybe run a scedule of strong non title PPV's on a monthly basis at no more than $25, then three monthly a top dollar show with at least one if not multiple titles on the line, just a thought
Ballentine- March 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm
If fighters are going to be in a "MAIN EVENT" non title fights. It should ALWAYS be five rounds.
robthom- March 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm
"Wec is far more exciting to me than any ufc fights"

Strobing lights are so amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Cro mag- March 11, 2010 at 2:49 pm
OK, so according to those PPV numbers at $50 a pop they pulled in $280,000,000. The live gate revenues from each event are more than enough to cover the prize money for the fighters and all other expenses for that matter. If Zuffa is't turning a profit now they never will. They are going to have to re evaluate their business model.