Who is the Biggest UFC PPV Draw? – Part 3

August 25, 2010

This is the third part of our series on which fighters are the biggest UFC PPV draws.  In parts one and two, we compared the average buys for cards featuring specific fighters against the average buyrate for all UFC pay-per-view cards.  In today’s installment, we’ll begin using slightly more complex numbers to get handle on a fighter’s draw.

Overview: One of the common debates among MMA fans concerns which fighter is the biggest draw.  From the business side, a fighter’s draw shapes PPV expectations (and, subsequently, PPV revenues) and should play a major role in sponsorships for both the given fighter and every other fighter on the PPV.  In this series of articles, we’ll examine several intuitive ways that one can estimate a fighter’s draw and examine the wide variation in these estimates.  We’ll be focusing on the ten fighters that Derek Jenkins identified as the biggest draws in a recent article at Yahoo! Sports.

Today’s Comparison: Average PPV buys for cards without a fighter versus average PPV buys for cards with a fighter

The Number

One of the numbers will be the same as in part one – the average number of buys for cards featuring a given fighter.  Instead of comparing this to the average number of buys for all UFC pay-per-views, we’ll use a new number – the average number of buys for cards that do not feature the fighter.

We’ll discuss the reasons below, but we’ll look now at the numbers from 2006-present and 2008-present.

The Fighters

As mentioned in the overview, we’ll be using the ten fighters that Derek Jenkins identified as the biggest draws: Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, and Randy Couture.

The Data

We’ll still be using the PPV buys for all UFC pay-per-view events from UFC 57 (Couture-Liddell III) to UFC 116 (Lesnar-Carwin), and we will continue to do so throughout the series.  You can view the PPV buys for events up to UFC 107 in our MMAPayout.com Blue Book.

Average buys for all UFC PPVs since 2006: 545,000

Fighter Average PPV buys for cards without fighter Average PPV buysfor cards with fighter Difference
Brock Lesnar 498,000 1,007,000 509,000
Georges St. Pierre 514,000 682,000 168,000
Chuck Liddell 534,000 600,000 66,000
Rashad Evans 539,000 577,000 38,000
Quinton Jackson 529,000 669,000 140,000
Forrest Griffin 533,000 602,000 69,000
Lyoto Machida 540,000 572,000 32,000
BJ Penn 545,000 539,000 -6,000
Anderson Silva 562,000 456,000 -106,000
Randy Couture 546,000 530,000 -16,000

 

Average buys for all UFC PPVs since 2008: 581,000

Fighter Average PPV buys for cards without fighter Average PPV buys for cards with fighter Difference
Brock Lesnar 507,000 1,007,000 500,000
Georges St. Pierre 528,000 889,000 361,000
Chuck Liddell 584,000 550,000 -34,000
Rashad Evans 561,000 693,000 132,000
Quinton Jackson 560,000 735,000 175,000
Forrest Griffin 566,000 691,000 125,000
Lyoto Machida 576,000 610,000 34,000
BJ Penn 576,000 603,000 27,000
Anderson Silva 589,000 530,000 -59,000
Randy Couture 581,000 573,000 -8,000

Mathematical Side Note: Averages were rounded to the nearest thousand, which can make some numbers presented above appear to be nonsense.  For example, the overall average for UFC PPVs since 2006 is 545,000.  The average for cards without BJ Penn over the same period is also 545,000.  Mathematically, this means that either (i) the average for cards featuring BJ Penn is also 545,000 or (ii) BJ Penn did not appear on any cards.  BJ Penn obviously did fight on UFC PPVs, yet his average is 539,000, which seems impossible.  This discrepancy is due to rounding.  The actual overall average for all PPVs since 2006 is 544,545.5 (over 55 events), while the average for cards without Penn is about 1,000 buys higher at 545,425.5 (over 47 events); both numbers, however, get rounded to 545,000.  Penn’s average is 539,375 buys over 8 events.  You can then verify that 539,375*(8/55) + 545,425.5*(47/55) = 544,545.5, which shows that the averages presented are mathematically accurate and the discrepancy is due to our rounding.

Payout Perspective

 

In all the tables in this series, we’re presenting the fighters in the order that Jenkins’ article ranked them.  Now, we’ll instead use the numbers above to rank the fighters based on each column.

AVERAGE PPV BUYS FOR CARDS WITHOUT FIGHTER:

SINCE 2006                  SINCE 2008

  1. Silva                      Silva
  2. Couture               Liddell
  3. Penn                     Couture
  4. Machida               Machida/Penn (tie)
  5. Evans
  6. Liddell                  Griffin
  7. Griffin                   Evans
  8. Jackson               Jackson
  9. St. Pierre             St. Pierre
  10. Lesnar                   Lesnar

AVERAGE PPV BUYS FOR CARDS WITH FIGHTER:

SINCE 2006                  SINCE 2008

  1. Lesnar                   Lesnar
  2. St. Pierre             St. Pierre
  3. Jackson               Jackson
  4. Griffin                   Evans
  5. Liddell                  Griffin
  6. Evans                    Machida
  7. Machida               Penn
  8. Penn                     Couture
  9. Couture               Liddell
  10. Silva                      Silva

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CARDS WITH AND WITHOUT FIGHTER:

SINCE 2006                  SINCE 2008

  1. Lesnar                   Lesnar
  2. St. Pierre             St. Pierre
  3. Jackson               Jackson
  4. Griffin                   Evans
  5. Liddell                  Griffin
  6. Evans                    Machida
  7. Machida               Penn
  8. Penn                     Couture
  9. Couture               Liddell
  10. Silva                      Silva

 

It’s worth noting at the outset that it is not a coincidence that the first set of rankings is the exact opposite of the other two; similarly, the second and third set of rankings should give the same order.  If you go back to part one in the series, we mentioned the following weakness of using the overall average of PPV buys as a comparison:

Makes good draws look worse and bad draws look better. Consider Brock Lesnar, whose worst PPV did 600,000 buys.  His five PPVs in the dataset sold 600K, 625K, 1.01 million, 1.6 million, and 1.2 million.  These PPVs drive up the overall UFC average, which is what Lesnar is being compared to here.  A better comparison for Lesnar is to compare his average PPV buyrate to the average buyrate for all UFC PPVs that do not feature Lesnar.  Similarly, weaker draws like Anderson Silva look better because their lower buyrates pull the overall average buyrate down.

In these rankings, we’re directly addressing that issue.  Lesnar is a strong draw, so he pulls the overall buyrate up.  When we take his numbers out (which we are doing here), the average buyrate for the remaining cards will drop.  Similarly, when we take Silva out, the average buyrate goes up.  Using any of these three rankings should therefore provide the same order (of course, the first set of rankings lists the worst draw first and the best draw last).

Quick Thoughts

There’s not much of a difference if we include the 2006-2007 numbers.  The only change in rankings is that Chuck Liddell drops a few places (from 5th to 9th) if we only look at PPVs since 2008; given the string of losses that Liddell accumulated in this time, it’s not a huge surprise that he lost a bit of his draw.

Looking at the last set of rankings, we can start to make sense of fighter draws in an intuitive way.  Lesnar obviously came into the UFC with a built-in fan base from his years in WWE.  Fans have watched GSP evolve from a top contender into an elite top pound-for-pound fighter, which has likely built up the interest among fans along the way.

With Quinton Jackson, it’s easy to forget that he came into the UFC at the top of the card, even if most UFC fans didn’t know who he was.  He’s only been in two fights that were not the main event – his UFC debut against Marvin Eastman at UFC 67 (headlined by Silva-Lutter) and his third fight against Wanderlei Silva at UFC 92, which also featured the title bout between Griffin and Evans and a co-main event of Mir-Nogueira.

The next two fighters on the list are probably a bit surprising to older MMA fans, but they represent the UFC fan base built by The Ultimate Fighter, as newer fans have watched as Griffin and Evans went from UFC hopefuls on The Ultimate Fighter to UFC champions.

 

The Number

Average PPV buys are the most basic numbers we can use to determine a fighter’s draw.  Today, we’re comparing the average number of buys for cards that feature a fighter to the average buys for cards that do not feature the fighter.  Since we’re now looking at a different set of numbers than in parts one and two, we’ll take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of these new numbers.

STRENTHS

 

The “right” comparison. I used the quotation marks around “right” just to point out that the right number to use depends on what you’re trying to figure out.  When we try to figure out how big of a draw a fighter is, the most natural answer is to look at what the buyrate looks like without the fighter and see how many additional buys he brings when he’s on the card.  That’s exactly what we’ve done here, and we see that a card with Brock Lesnar brings an extra half-million buys over a card without him.

(Some) Evidence of the anti-draw. In part one, we mentioned that one problem with using the overall average number of buys essentially requires some fighter(s) to be worse than average, which occasionally gets interpreted as a fighter being an anti-draw.  We also explained why you can’t really draw that inference from those numbers.  However, we can start to make that inference here but only partially.  We still have the problem that we’re comparing one fighter’s average against the other top draws, so it’s still misleading to claim someone is an anti-draw.  Nonetheless, we do have some evidence to speculate what the buyrate would look like for a card without Anderson Silva, and it’s about 60,000-100,000 more buys than a card that he’s on.  As in part one, the problem remains that this number implicitly assumes that one of the other ten fighters on the list takes Silva’s place on the list.  We’ll revisit this issue in parts five and six.

WEAKNESSES

No consistent baseline. The big problem with this approach is that we can’t really compare fighters anymore, since they’re not being compared to the same baseline.  To put things more concretely, everyone except Brock Lesnar is being compared to a baseline that includes Lesnar’s pay-per-views.  While we do get a much better idea of the “right” number when it comes to a given fighter’s draw, it becomes much more difficult to draw any other conclusions.

POSSIBLE STRENGTH OR WEAKNESS

Aggregate information. We discussed in part one how aggregating data – as we’ve done here – can be a strength or weakness.  In part two, we had a chance to compare aggregate numbers to the year-by-year breakdown.  With the numbers we were using, there wasn’t a huge difference, but the aggregate results got rid of the somewhat large variation that we saw in the year-by-year breakdown.

Up Next

In part four, we’ll break down these numbers by year.  This breakdown will let us see how much of a difference aggregating our data makes.  Then, we’ll go back to a consistent baseline, but one that eliminates many of the weaknesses we discussed in part one.   In particular, we’ll be using a new baseline that doesn’t compare one fighter against the other nine on the list.

 

2 Responses to “Who is the Biggest UFC PPV Draw? – Part 3”

  1. Anonymous on August 27th, 2010 7:44 AM

    Twitter Trackbacks…

  2. Brain Smasher on August 31st, 2010 7:35 AM

    During a discussion on another site i realized how hard it is to gage a fighters PPV buying appeal. IMO Rashad Evans is arguable a worse draw than Anderson Silva who has been regularly the worst UFC headliner. But one thing that is missed by many and hides this fact is Evans fights in a division that has the most popular fighters in MMA when a guy like Silva fights at 185 that dont have many draws at all. So when Silva goes up to 185 to fight Forrest even he gets a high PPV buy rate. Evans has had the benefit of riding the coat tails of Forrest, Chuck, Jackson, Ortiz, and Machida. But when you look at his fight with Tiago Silva you see Rashad with only the UFC brand and himself as the draw anf they only manage to bring in 300K buys. But combine him with Tito(425), Chuck(480),Forrest(1000K),Jackson(1050K) he starts to be confused for a popular fighter who draws PPVs.

    With the importance of opponent, strength of card, location of events,etc. It is pretty much impossible to gage someones drawing ability.

Got something to say?

You must be logged in to post a comment.