On October 30th, UFC 267 will be the ninth numbered event that will not be sold through PPV (Pay Per View), and the first since UFC 138 in November 2011 when Chris Leben fought Mark Muñoz.
The reason for UFC 138 not being on PPV, along with the other seven, was because they were taking place in foreign countries at their prime times so that the athletes could fight at a healthy time to maximize their potential on the night. This meant that the UFC had to make sure its event did not flop in the United States, and therefore it aired them on Spike TV on tape delay so everyone could watch it at a good time.
This event is also in a foreign country, Abu Dhabi, UAE to be exact, but the difference for this event is that it has been doing afternoon cards in the US on PPV for years and it has even done some US primetime PPV shows in Abu Dhabi. That made it so that the fighters had to fight during the night, sleep during the day, and spend the whole week adjusting to that sleep pattern, which is definitely not ideal for the fighters and ultimately the level of fights it puts on.
Why Try This Out Now?
One of the main reasons for this change is UFC 254 in October of 2020, which was headlined by the retirement fight of UFC lightweight champion and legend Khabib Nurmagomedov, who took on Justin Gaethje. The event was an afternoon card in the US and a primetime card for the European countries. While the event was a success, packing in a massive 675,000 PPV buys, the UFC likely expected it to be a more astounding number that would challenge the top ten PPV buys of all time, and was outsold by the likes of UFC 251, UFC 259, and UFC 261. It also far and away lost out to both Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor events in 2021, UFC 257 and UFC 264, outselling UFC 254 by around 1 million buys.
The company has seen this and made the only UFC PPV card in Abu Dhabi since, UFC 257, a primetime US card, and the sales were incredible. The UFC is a company that lives off of selling its product as much as humanly possible, and when the PPV cards underperform expectations, nothing annoys the brass more. It knew that moving forward it had to find a compromise between the attraction and attention to its events and being able to give the fighters the best chance of competing to the best of their abilities, which is removing the PPV model for the afternoon card, allowing anyone that has ESPN+ to watch for no extra cost, in contrast to the normal $65.
Will the Outcome of UFC 267 Allow the UFC to Abandon the PPV Model Permanently?
The UFC has been using the PPV model for the entirety of the ZUFFA era, and obviously with them growing the company from $2 million to $4 billion between 2001 and 2016 (and apparently up to $11 billion, according to Conor McGregor), it has no reason to change the model that has taken the promotion from the brink of bankruptcy to one of the richest sports organizations in the world.
There is a good chance that it might change the Abu Dhabi cards to non-PPV cards for the permanent future because if it is a success later this month, it can kill two birds with one stone. It can relieve the stress of PPVs underselling and get more people, potentially a lot more new fans, to fall in love with the sport without having to pay anything extra. That means that when the US-based PPVs come around, they will want to buy those, and so it makes them more profit in the future while also letting the fighters take care of themselves and have the easiest going fight week possible, especially when there is such high profile fights on this card with 2 title fights headlining. The fighters openly said that the process threw them off during fight week, and when it all comes down to the very basics of what the integrity of this sport is, it is built around the health and safety of the fighters. When the fighters have to adjust to flipping their sleep schedule upside-down while also having to make weight and compete to try and take the other man’s head off on Sunday morning, that is not the healthiest way to go about business.
While it may well go in the direction of ESPN+ cards in Abu Dhabi, it probably thinks that the step into online PPV buying was enough and the PPV model is not doing it any wrong when it is putting on cards at the usual time in the US. In fact, it may just be flourishing more than ever.
UFC 267 will be a scintillating card to watch, not just because it is a great card packed from top to bottom with international talent all the way to the top-end of the light heavyweight, bantamweight, and lightweight divisions, but because it could mark the start of a great era for fight fans in financial terms on the quarterly or half-year basis.
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