HBO, WWE Executives Weigh-in on UFC

September 30, 2008

MMAPayout.com recently did a segment on Inside MMA on the PPV battles between UFC, HBO, and WWE. Multichannel News recently elaborated on this battle for supremacy, with HBO and WWE execs commenting on the situation. At least for the press, both HBO and WWE execs tend to play down the impact that the UFC is having on their business.

HBO Pay-Per-View senior vice president Mark Taffet tends to feel a rising tide is lifting all boats:

“The landscape continues to look bright,” he said, adding that HBO’s pay-per-view boxing set records in 2006 and 2007 with 2008 proceeding apace, while the traditional network’s live events are also faring well. (Boxing tends to draw an older demographic than MMA.)

“There is room for everyone,” said Taffet. “It’s good for pay-per-view — mixed martial arts has just added more consumers to the television set.”

Taffet comes off as having his head in the sand as to the demographic divide between the younger skewing MMA and the graying Boxing crowd. There are a few factors, though that still make his a catbird’s seat for PPV. One is the much wider International PPV base that is enjoyed by boxing compared to MMA. International numbers put up by guys like Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe help boost the bottom line over and above the domestic sales.

Another factor keeping boxing relevant are the shifting ethnic demographics of the United States. The Hispanic audience that has been a core of the HBO boxing customer base will only continue to grow over time, with HBO reaping the benefits of this demographic shift. The UFC is currently laying the groundwork to make in-roads to the Hispanic market but it will be a long game of catch-up to get within striking distance of Boxing’s hold on the Latino fight fan.

Members of WWE management also weighed in on the UFC, believing that the WWE attracts a much wider market, limiting competition with the UFC:

Much of what UFC is doing with MMA has been done before, said WWE executive vice president Geoff Rochester.

“We think they’ve borrowed from us — all the pyrotechnics, the high-energy music are things we brought in years ago,” he said. “They adopted our production techniques.”

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Rochester also says WWE’s demos are much broader, attracting both older and younger viewers (they just launched a kids’ magazine) and the company is more layered with books, DVDs and theatrical releases complementing the live and televised events.

WWE views movies and television shows as its main competition, according to Rochester. But with respect to UFC, he said, “We watch each other, make no mistake.”

While the WWE does attract a wider demo, the WWE has to be worried with the performance of Brock Lesnar in his performance with the UFC. The former WWE champ has drawn new customers to the UFC, and they aren’t coming because of his amateur days with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Brock’s first bout against Frank Mir brought in 300k folks that had never purchased a UFC PPV before. Most of these buys are either current or disaffected WWE fans, a sign that has to be troubling to Vince McMahon.

Rochester speaks the truth when saying that the UFC has followed the WWE blueprint, and UFC execs will admit as much. Some of these moves have been dubious (like the Octagon Card Girl search and the Dana vs Tito boxing match, both made for TV events that veered too far into the WWE antics) but for the most part, the UFC has been handsomely rewarded.

The UFC spoke recently about their plans to increase shows internationally and a big part of that was going to areas that the WWE had been able to operate successfully in. The UFC is essentially using the WWE as a “canary down the coal mine” in order to feel out prospective markets, saving both time and money.

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