UFC 124: Payout Perspective

December 13, 2010

Welcome to another edition of Payout Perspective! This week we’ll be taking a look at UFC 124: St-Pierre vs. Koscheck II which was held at The Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec on Saturday, December 11th. The event was headlined by the much anticipated welterweight title showdown between Ultimate Fighter Season 12 coaches Georges St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck. The card also featured the likes of Thiago Alves, Joe Stevenson, Mac Danzig, and Stefan Struve.

GSP dominates Koscheck, now looking at Shields

Georges St-Pierre used a stiff jab and a few nasty left hook combinations to fracture the orbital bone of Josh Koscheck on the way to a dominant unanimous decision victory on Saturday night at UFC 124. He put on a clinic, as they say, with his masterful use of the jab and superb head movement to avoid Koscheck’s overhand right. It was truly a performance in which St-Pierre cemented his legacy as one of the best fighters of this era and undoubtedly the best welterweight of all-time.

St-Pierre is likely to face Jake Shields next. Dana White seemed to be most in favor of this bout. However, if you look around at the list of contenders, it’s hard to justify any other bout. St-Pierre has defeated the who’s who of the 170lbs. division, including Koscheck (2), Fitch, Alves, Penn (2), Hughes (2), Hardy, and Serra. Here we see the business side of the sport coming into play. Jon Fitch is probably the most deserving of the next shot from a wins perspective, but he’s failed to impress in any of his latest victories. He’s not the UFC’s only option – and certainly not the most appealing – so why would they give him a shot? If he keeps good to his word and puts on a dominating performance against BJ Penn in February, he’ll likely be next up for the WW defense in Fall of 2011.

Naturally, there’s been some talk of GSP fighting Silva, but, it will have to wait at least until after Silva fights Belfort in February and GSP fights Shields (likely in April). A fight between St-Pierre and Silva would undoubtedly be the most important fight in UFC history, although there’s no guarantee  it would break 1.6 million PPV buys. I could see the UFC using a fight like this as a center piece to a brand new integrated marketing campaign; something to help push it further towards mainstream acceptance with the goal of leveraging the fight and the marketing campaign towards obtaining a solid network television deal. The timing is certainly right.

UFC 124 attendance and gate

The UFC pushed the media all week with the message that UFC 124 was going to have the biggest attendance and live gate in UFC history, but sadly only one of those came true. The official attendance set a new record with 23, 152 people cramming The Bell Centre in Montreal. However, the official gate slightly underperformed at $4. 586 million. It should be noted that $4.6 million is still an excellent gate (my how far this sport has come to look at things and say a gate like that actually underperformed!).

Fight Week

Most casual fans make their purchase decision the week of the fight and these are the types of consumers that can make the difference between a fight selling 600,000 buys or 1.6 million buys. Therefore, as I’ve said many times before, fight week is the most critical time for any PPV in terms of promotion. There’s nothing in this sport that adds to the short-term bottom line like a good fight week campaign. Therefore, let’s take a look at some of what we saw this past week:

  • ESPN has shown an increasing commitment to the UFC and this was definitely on display this week. The fight week SportsCenter interviews and MMA Live coverage that have become commonplace over the last six months were accompanied by the first MMA-related SportsCenter commercial featuring Georges St-Pierre. Additionally, ESPN also released a viral video on Youtube that showed GSP teaching two college mascots how to fight.
  • SpikeTV debuted its Countdown to UFC 124 program on Monday, December 6th at 7pm EST/PST and garnered 470,000 average viewers. It’s a solid but unspectacular number. However, Spike has switched up its strategy in recent months and this Countdown show now plays so often that it’s the aggregate number of views across the entire week that truly counts.
  • In Canada, Rogers Sportsnet led the way with its usual stalwart programming featuring Showdown Joe Ferraro and his MMA Connected series. Sometimes I believe that American fans don’t realize how significant Sportsnet’s coverage of MMA really is. They were the first major sports network in the world to give MMA primetime love and they back this up with a host of online and behind the scenes content that isn’t matched anywhere else.
  • TSN also jumped on the bandwagon with considerably more coverage on its SportsCentre (notice the spelling) and almost three full days worth of Off The Record coverage of UFC 124, including a special preview show on Saturday night. The preview show was solid as it featured interviews with both fighters and a good 5 minute clip with Cain Velasquez that took viewers through a typical fight day routine for the average fighter.

UFC 124 fight trailer featuring music by Jay-Z and Rhianna

The UFC has experimented with the use of mainstream music in its promo trailers over the last few years, but UFC 124 is the first time I can remember the company ever using music for a publicly released trailer that didn’t also contain some sort of co-promotion. The UFC did the video with 50 Cent for UFC 91 but that was just spliced fight video into 50’s regular music video. UFC 124’s trailer did not include anything from Jay-Z or Rhianna except the music.

I’ve said for a while now that one of the keys to the UFC’s impending mainstream acceptance will be smart and proper integration with popular culture. Music definitely helps them do that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the UFC’s Stemm intro, but that music only appeals to a very small subset of people. I can remember seeing Craig Borsari mixing up a “Welcome to Atlanta” version of the intro for UFC 88 on Dana’s Vlog a few years ago, but we never saw that on the PPV. Hopefully this latest Rhianna mix is a sign that the UFC is willing to pay the royalties necessary to use these songs in its promotional content.

UFCVote.com

The UFC unveiled UFCVote.com at UFC 124 in which fans were allowed to pick the winners of fight of the night and the $100,000 bonus checks. In what was clearly a pilot thrown together to test the idea, the UFC learned that it’s probably not the best idea to put hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus money into the hands of biased fans. That’s because the fans chose the main event as the FON by an overwhelming margin despite Riddle vs. Pierson probably being the more spirited and entertaining bout.

UFCVote.com is a great idea, because it allows the brand to further engage the fans and give them a say over part of the product. This is especially relevant in a climate where many fans have criticized the UFC for its pay of the fighters (though I find it odd that, in light of this fact, the majority still elected to give more money to the fighters that were already set to make the most on the card).

I don’t believe the UFC ought to get rid of the idea altogether. Instead the UFC should modify the award by separating it from the FON and creating a distinct fans fight of the night honor worth $5,000-$10,000 per fighter. The UFC could further develop the existing website to allow fans to rate each fight on a scale of 10; the highest rated fight wins (perhaps you exclude from eligibility the main event guys). The additional upside to this idea is that the UFC could further sell a ton of inventory to what is likely going to be a highly trafficked website. Then, if it wanted to go one further, it could even take the winning fight from each PPV event on the year and compile them for an end of the year Spike special. The special could be used to review the year that was and determine the fans’ ultimate fight of the year (of course, you’d sell this to sponsors, too).

Sponsorship Watch

I criticized Boost Mobile for its involvement at 123, but I thought it did a better job at 124 of integrating its brand into the broadcast. They brought us the Judge’s Call, were a part of the UFCVote.com, and were generally visible throughout the fight card.

There’s been much ado this week regarding the UFC’s fighter sponsorship policies and how they influence fighters financially. If you haven’t jumped in on the debate yet, I suggest you take a look.

UFC 131 announced for April 30th at the Rogers Centre

Earlier in the week, the UFC announced it will host its very first show in Ontario on April 30th when it plans to visit Toronto’s Rogers Centre and absolutely smash the North American attendance and gate record. The Rogers Centre is the enclosed baseball stadium where the MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays play (formerly known as the Skydome), and it actually sat upwards of 70,000 for a Wrestlemania show a few years ago. It’s likely the UFC is going to opt for a smaller seating configuration (40,000), not because it couldn’t fill 68,000 but more because it wants to make sure every fan can see the action. The nature of the UFC’s cage has always detracted from the live experience; this would really come into play for fans sitting in the very upper deck, a mile away from the action inside of a black cage.

7 Responses to “UFC 124: Payout Perspective”

  1. Tweets that mention UFC 124: Payout Perspective (MMA Payout) #fb -- Topsy.com on December 13th, 2010 9:33 AM

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  2. damon on December 13th, 2010 9:58 PM

    ufc can not fill the rogers centre. It’s not because they want the fans to get up close to the action. it’s because wrestlemania is bigger than that ufc show. Hulk hogan and the rock are twice as famous as these ufc jabronis. WWE>ufc

  3. Machiel Van on December 14th, 2010 8:04 AM

    With an appropriate fight card they could fill it.

  4. Stan on December 14th, 2010 10:53 AM

    they’ll have to stack the card and price the bad seats properly. I imagine they’ll shoot for GSP/Shields on it and Lesnar’s next fight unless he’s on TUF and at least one other title match

  5. Kelsey Philpott on December 14th, 2010 1:15 PM

    Damon,

    I’m telling you right now that the UFC could do 70,000 at the Rogers Centre in April. Easy. It’s just a matter of filling the card and pricing appropriately as MV and Stan have mentioned before.

    If you were looking at 70,000 this is what you’d need:

    – GSP is an excellent start, but not enough. Velasquez vs. Dos Santos would be a solid co-main event. Then maybe you throw a Urijah Faber vs Miguel Torres on the card as a third draw to really give this card some sizzle.

    – The average ticket price was $250 at the Bell Centre, but I’d expect something closer to $100 at the Rogers Centre with tickets going for as little as $40 on the upper deck and the regular $500-750 for cage side. This would probably give you a gate of approximately $7,000,000.

    Regardless, I expect they’ll shoot for 35,000-45,000 depending on the seating configuration and a gate of $5.5-6.0 million on this card.

    Kelsey

  6. edi on December 14th, 2010 4:41 PM

    I would take blame for the Great Chicago Fire and crawl through the African Jungle to see Miguel & Uriah go at it.

    Kelsey knows the biz!

  7. damon on December 20th, 2010 12:05 PM

    my point is that if they don’t sell it out they can’t use the excuse about wanting the fans to be up close to the action. If ufc sells the place out they deserve credit. If they don’t stop the BS excuse. WWE sales more tickets than ufc.

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