Is the UFC doing things right?

Anderson Silva USADA

 

This past Saturday, another UFC double-header was served to us, as UFC Fight Night 53 & 54 took place on the same day.  Two cards that were not stacked, turned out to be decent, but nothing spectacular.  The Sweden card that occurred earlier in the day had a lackluster undercard, but the event got heated up with some huge upsets and first round finishes throughout the four-fight main card.  Later that night, the Canadian-filled Halifax card had a couple title contention bouts in the main and co-main events, with some fun matchups throughout the main and preliminary card.  The two TUF: Nations winners, Chad Laprise and Elias Theodorou picked up their second wins inside the Octagon, and of course the Canadian welterweight contender Rory MacDonald nabbed his first finish in two years against Tarec Saffedine. The Halifax card actually looked a lot similar to the TUF: Nations Finale earlier this April — a card with not many great fights or finishes and also hosted on Canadian soil.

The Stockholm card really wasn’t great on paper.  It only had a couple ranked fighters throughout the entire event, and depending where you live it aired in the late hours of the morning.  I actually woke up after the fights had started, but it didn’t even seem like a big deal.  Yes, I love watching UFC, no matter what.  It’s a very entertaining sport and even if the events aren’t stacked it’s still enjoyable to watch.  I consider myself a huge MMA fan, and I’ve tried to watch as many events as I possible since I got into the sport.  Obviously I have to miss some, but since I’m not in school for Saturdays and Sundays, I’m available on weekend nights quite frequently, therefore I am able to watch many of the events that take place.  One thing that hit me was that I didn’t feel interested in watching the Stockholm prelims, earlier that day.  It’s been a long time since I’ve passed up on watching fights.  I am usually always watching them, no matter what, if I can.  5AM event in China?  I’m down.

Many people have said that there are just too many UFC events nowadays.  I’ve disagreed for a long time with these people, but as much as I love watching MMA, I have to agree now.  Events have become too watered down — Fight Nights, Fight Pass Events, PPVs, whatever and I think some of the fan base from the earlier days are slowly getting sick and tired of these poor events. They are just becoming disinterested in the sport.

On average, there are usually three to five events per month.  Most events have anywhere from 10 to 12 fights, which means 30-60 different fighters will be needed per month. There are 500 fighters on the UFC roster, and a lot of those are prelim fighters.  About one fifth of the roster are main card worthy, so say 100 fighters or so.  For the UFC to have three to five stacked events per month, they’d need those 100 fighters to fight every two months approximately, which is impossible.  It’s just a fact, with the amount of draws in the UFC you can’t have four great events per month that include at least two match-ups with big names.

There are so many cards now. Unless you’re rich, you literally have to judge a PPV card and decide if it’s worth their $60-65.  The quality of cards, especially PPV, have gone so downhill lately.

Enthusiasm.  Think about what that means for a second.  The UFC needs fans to be really excited for the next event, and enthused.  With that many events per year, it’s just impossible to be very excited for a mediocre event.  For example, a free Fight Night that features a pair of ranked fighters with a bunch of decent fighters and some prelim guys.  Of course it’s still exciting, but it’s not the same level of enthusiasm that fans feel when there hasn’t been an event for a few weeks and a big card is coming up.  You can’t have fans thinking, “Oh, just another UFC event” prior to an event.  Earlier this summer, after UFC on FOX 12, there wasn’t another event for three weeks.  The next event wasn’t a huge pay-per-view or anything, but fans were still pretty pumped up to finally here the legendary voice of Bruce Buffer for the first time in a few weeks.  Imagine if that was a highly anticipated PPV event, rather than a decent free card?

There are also many other reasons people may be losing interest in the sport.  MMA judging has been a huge issue lately, with some terrible decisions occurring this year.  A notable decision was Pearson vs. Sanchez, where Pearson clearly won the fight but Sanchez, the hometown hero, took home a split decision win anyways.  Last Saturday, Gunnar Nelson still lost his bout against Rick Story but one judge gave Nelson 3 rounds to 2, which was an absolute terrible call.  Most people had the fight scored five rounds to none for Story or at the very least 4-1.  One judge even gave Story 5-0, with a 10-8 round.  Injuries are another reason fans might just give up on MMA.  Injuries are so frequent now you can’t rely on a card staying identical to when it was very first announced.  You almost have to assume some fights will be changed up due to injury.  The reason for injuries nowadays is because the sport is many of the fighter’s lone job, where back in the day they did not make as much money as they do now, and were not training 24/7.

All of these things add up to why fans are just losing interest in the UFC, and don’t care to watch watered down fight cards no longer.  There’s proof, too.

First off, let’s look at the PPV buys per event for 2013:

UFC 156: 330,000
UFC 157: 450,000
UFC 158: 950,000
UFC 159: 530,000
UFC 160: 380,000
UFC 161: 140,000
UFC 162: 550,000
UFC 163: 180,000
UFC 164: 270,000
UFC 165: 310,000
UFC 166: 330,000
UFC 167: 630,000
UFC 168: 1,025,000

Now, let’s take a peek at the PPV buys for 2014:

UFC 169: 240,000
UFC 170: 340,000
UFC 171: 300,000
UFC 172: 350,000
UFC 173: 215,000
UFC 174: 115,000
UFC 175: 545,000
UFC 176: Cancelled
UFC 177: 125,000
UFC 178: Not released yet

See a difference?

Sure, 2014 isn’t over, but with three pay-per-view events left, it’s safe to estimate in total those three will get about only one million buys in total — with UFC 179 relatively weak.  So by the time the year is over, I suspect the pay-per-views this year will get about 3.5 million buys, in total.  The UFC will probably make right around 200 million dollars in 2014, just from pay-per-views.

2013 wasn’t even a great year for pay-per-view buys either, but still a lot better than this year.  The UFC got a little over six-million buys last year, which would make them right around 365 million dollars.  The difference there is 165 million dollars, which is a lot of cash they missed out on.

There were a lot of people comparing UFC 177, which featured Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw vs. Joe Soto, to an average Fight Night card.  It was so bad, it was actually unbelievable.  Take UFC 168 for example, which got over 1 million PPV buys…now that’s a pay-per-view event, ladies and gentlemen.

Instead of improving their pay-per-view events this year, they just weakened them and brought in a new source of revenue, something we call UFC Fight Pass.  It’s a subscription based service where you can watch old fights, exclusive content, and some live events that are only streamed exclusively on Fight Pass.  It costs $10/month, so 120 dollars per year we’re spending.  UFC Fight Pass has approximately 800,000 subscriptions, but it definitely has been gaining subscriptions, as it has been improving steadily.  Therefore, the UFC will be making 96 million dollars a year off of the digital service.

Of course the UFC makes money from advertisements, and what not, but the UFC relies on pay-per-views and Fight Pass as a good chunk of their revenue.  So, if you take 165,000,000, which is what they lost from 2013 to 2014 in pay-per-view money, and minus 96 million from that, they’re still losing, even be generous and say $69 million.  Which is absolutely crazy.  Over half a million more people would have to pay for Fight Pass for a year to make up for that loss, and the UFC probably won’t gain that many subscriptions on Fight Pass, at least for a little while.

Another way to look at the loss of pay-per-view generated revenue is by taking the largest PPV event of 2013, UFC 168 headlined by Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva 2 which got over a million buys and this year’s largest PPV, UFC 175 which did about 545k buys.  UFC 168 made about 61.5 million dollars, and UFC 175 made only about 32 million dollars.  Basically you can call it a 30 million dollar loss, just from one PPV.  Of course fighter payouts are higher for the bigger draws on the larger PPVs, but that’s not a big enough difference to really affect much.

If you need more proof the fan base of the UFC is getting smaller as people are getting more frustrated, here’s an interesting thing.  The local Boston Pizzas here in Winnipeg have stopped showing UFC events.  They have been showing events for years now, and all of a sudden they aren’t.  Obviously, because they aren’t making money from buying the events, which means not enough people are going out to see the events anymore.  It’s just not good enough of an investment now.  Of course this could mean the fans have turned into hard core fans and order all the PPV events themselves now, but that’s unlikely.

Getting back to UFC Fight Pass, casual fans are taking offense to the whole “exclusive to Fight Pass events” thing.  Fans from day one have been ordering pay-per-views, paying for cable and even extending their cable to a higher end package to be able to get the channel UFC is on.  And the UFC is back with another thing you have to pay 120 bucks a year for.  At first, UFC Fight Pass was a website you could get away without having, as it didn’t have much besides old fights and some other stuff.  Lately though, there has been a handful of events only the people that pay for Fight Pass are capable of watching.  Now, there’s going to be about 12 events per year, without Fight Pass, you’ll be missing out on.  The website has gone from a little extra stuff that only the hard core fans want, to a requirement, if you want to be able to watch most events.  Besides, what if you’re an older MMA fan that doesn’t know how to use a computer?  Those people will be missing out on a good number of events because they’re only available on the computer.  Even if you stream it to the TV from your computer, it requires a dongle or something like that, and setup on the actual computer.  There we go again, more payments.  If you want to enjoy the Fight Pass cards on your flat screen TV sitting comfortably in your LazyBoy recliner, guess what?  Like I said, you’ll need to buy some sort of dongle that can connect the two devices, and it probably wouldn’t be easy finding something below the $30 mark.   Or even if an MMA fan doesn’t own a computer.  I doubt there’s many people out there nowadays that don’t, but there’s probably a handful at least.  One other negative thing about the subscription based site is that some early fans might make a case of the fact they’re technically paying for a fight twice.  They already paid for most events, but to watch them again years later, you have to be a Fight Pass owner.  You need to pay for the same thing twice, essentially, which makes no sense whatsoever.

It’s not good to only have an event on Fight Pass, either.  The UFC can lose customers and fans because of issues with the website.  Fight Pass is pretty good quality picture-wise, but your Wi-Fi will be really slow while watching a live fight and for me, it’s hard to even live tweet during events.  Also, there have been multiple occasions where the entire stream would freeze, or what not.  I encountered an issue while watching UFC Fight Night 53 where I had to refresh to get the video stream back.  It wasn’t a huge deal, but I ended up missing half of a fight.  If the main event is going on, people will get panicked if their stream messes up or freezes, as they’ll have to refresh and wait 30 seconds, and possibly miss the event.  Believe me, as a fan, it’s happened to me before, and it’s not good.  With all the issues, Fight Pass can be really frustrating especially during live fights.

There was a big problem at the most recent Invicta event, which streamed on Fight Pass, where the end of the fight was blacked out, and everyone missed the finish of the fight.  The UFC gave away a 5 dollar off coupon code for a pay-per-view event for everyone that was watching, but who cares?  Most people buy the PPVs on their TV, and  I’d rather 5 dollars at the very minimum off of my Fight Pass subscription, please and thank you.

Sure, the UFC has lost some of their big stars.  Anderson Silva has been recovering all of this year after a leg break at the end of 2013, Georges St-Pierre has been gone for almost a year on a hiatus.  Those are the two fighters that headlined the two biggest pay-per-views of the year, so of course the promotion suffered.  But, the way to fix that though is by stacking up their pay-per-views, by having less fight cards.

Something I think that could really work is one pay-per-view a month, a very stacked card, that’s highly anticipated.  Most of them will feature at least one or two championship bouts, and some big names will be on them.  Then have one other event per month, just so the people that like many events will still have two a month.  Still though, it wouldn’t be a weak card, it would be relatively stacked, some even with title fights.  It would be free, of course.

Something else that could work is two pay-per-view events a month, and that’s it, but at a charge of $30.  They would be evenly stacked and although they’re cheaper, I think the UFC would benefit from this.  A lot more people would likely pay 30 dollars for a big event like that, with another one in the same month.  I think pay-per-view buys would be a lot higher, and also, UFC would be affordable!  You don’t need a premium cable package, Fight Pass, all that nonsense.  You just need $60 a month for two events, access to pay-per-view channels, and you’re set to go.  What it would do is drop all of the free events, but have 2 paid events per month.  It would be the same cost pretty much in the long run, but it wouldn’t feel as much.  I would way rather two stacked cards a month for $60, than a watered down PPV for $60, and a few free cards that are barely worth the watch.

It all boils down to whether or not the UFC is doing things right.  According to the numbers at least, it’s pretty clear they aren’t, but you have to make your own call.  What do you think?

The UFC, and the MMA sport in general are not going to disappear.  Having said that, the fan base of the sport is getting smaller and smaller, as the bad marketing plans of the UFC continues and that is not good for the UFC and not good for us, the fans.  With some changes, the UFC would benefit, and the fans, most importantly, would also benefit greatly.

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