2011 UFC PPVs in rebuilding year?

January 10, 2011

Before we dive into 2011, we take a look back at buy rates for PPVs for the UFC. Dave Meltzer of  The Wrestling Observer  (subscription required) had an excellent analysis of the year in UFC PPVs.

According to the Wrestling Observer, the UFC did an estimated 8,970,000 buys for its 15 shows during the year for an average of 598,000. In comparison, 2009 did an estimated 7,755,000 buys for 13 shows for an average of 595,538. While 2010 has a higher average, 2010 had two more shows. Meltzer factors in Brock Lesnar at the top of the card in 2 shows in 2010 versus 1 in 2009. That one show in 2009 was UFC 100, which Metzler identifies as a special show which garnered an exceptional buy rate (1.6 million).

After looking at the anticipated schedule of fights for the year, Metzler does not believe that there is an 800K PPV buy card this year.

Meltzer adds:

That’s not a negative and this is a rebuilding year for the company, where the goal has to be in making new stars and in particular building the featherweight and bantamweight divisions up to where they can headline PPV shows and draw.

Payout Perspective:

With the WEC merger, expansion into new areas and hints of network exposure, one might expect that PPV buys would increase. However, Meltzer points out PPVs this year lack the huge event that would receive skyrocketing PPV buys. The Rogers Centre show could have been a big card if Cain Velasquez did not get hurt (a card featuring both Cain and GSP defending titles could be huge). This does not mean that the UFC will have a bad year; it just means that we should not expect a dramatic increase in buys.

2011 will be a year for the UFC to see how the new divisions will draw and for the UFC to examine the type of reception it will receive in new locations. Injuries, as always, will be an issue. Due to the injuries sustained by Cain Velasquez and Jose Aldo, the UFC will lack the draw of title fights in those divisions. The numbers show the drawing power of Brock Lesnar and the reason why the UFC would like to have him back. Any potential fight involving Lesnar: Mir, Carwin, dos Santos, would draw a big buy rate and a possibility to hit 800K buys. Meltzer brings up a potential GSP v. Anderson Silva fight that could be the type of fight that could surpass the 800K PPV plateau. Aside from those fights, I do not think any other fighter has the drawing power.

But, that does not mean the UFC could cultivate fighters into becoming big attractions. Prior to his suspension, Chael Sonnen had the talent, persona and self-promotion sense to sell fights to become a top-notch attraction. Jake Shields could be an up and coming star, but a so-so debut had many jump off Shields’ bandwagon. His title fight against GSP will be interesting. One fighter that should be a star in the UFC is Urijah Faber. He has a big fan base and is one of the few WEC fighters that could co-main event a PPV this year.

17 Responses to “2011 UFC PPVs in rebuilding year?”

  1. mmaguru on January 10th, 2011 7:36 AM

    I’ll post some more comments on this topic at a later time. However, I do find it quite interesting that the average buys in 2010 are actually higher than 2009 even with 2 extra events (possibly due to the Lensar factor). I wonder if the UFC plans on increasing the number of PPV events this year to see where the point of diminishing returns comes into play. Any thoughts on this Jason?

  2. jv on January 10th, 2011 8:04 AM

    I am pretty sure some one over at Zuffa said that they are getting pretty close to being maxed out on the number of PPVs they can do with out hurting the profitability of each show.

    If Zuffa stacks the Toronto show enough they could potentially do over 800,000 for that show. If they are going to try and and sell the Sky Dome they are going to have to burn a lot of talent to do that. But that will probably leave a tail of weak shows after it.

    It is interesting that the one star that the UFC can prettly well always count on to deliver big numbers and not be hurt is GSP. The guy Dana blasts for fighting to safe.

    As for Jake he has proven him self to be an absolute ratings killer. The break down of the numbers over the duration of the shows he was on at SF prove that. Now that wouldn’t be so bad because once you buy a PPV it doesn’t matter if you change the channel. But the word is also on the street that Jake is boooooring and that will hurt the buy numbers.

  3. Machiel Van on January 10th, 2011 8:08 AM

    Lesnar vs Carwin 2=$$$

  4. mmaguru on January 10th, 2011 8:16 AM

    I believe Carwin is slatted to fight Big Country. If he wins and Lesnar wins his next fight that would be a good match. Problem is that Dana is going to have to do a fly by to go see Lesnar as he ain’t returning any calls at the moment.

  5. Matt C. on January 10th, 2011 8:25 AM

    I disagree with the not seeing any 800k buy PPV cards this year. With the added lighter weight divisions the cards are filling out nicely. Hell on the next PPV you got 3 outstanding fights on the undercard.

    Paul Kelly vs. Donald Cerrone*
    Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa
    Demetrious Johnson vs. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto

    Great match-ups there for an undercard. To me this next PPV I could see hitting 800k PPV buys. However I could be being blinded by my hardcore fandom and not factoring in how little the casual buying audience know of those fighters.

    Even with that said about the undercard the Main Card looks awesome to me as well.

    Champ Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort (for middleweight title)
    Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin
    Jake Ellenberger vs. Carlos Eduardo Rocha
    Ryan Bader vs. Jon Jones
    Antonio Banuelos vs. Miguel Torres

    So to me that whole card is definitely at least an 800k buy card worthy card.

    However if I’m wrong about this next card being 800k worthy then there is definitely one card in the future I see doing at least 800k and that is the event in Brazil. Now usually out of North America cards aren’t stacked with talent but with all the Brazilian fighters that will be begging to be on that card I envision it being stacked from top to bottom.

  6. Diego on January 10th, 2011 10:57 AM

    That the UFC was able to post the kind of growth we’ve seen from them during a recession is impressive. 2011 is supposed to be the year the US economy gets back on track (admittedly this is according to the people who didn’t see the recession coming in the first place) so it’s conceivable that even without a Brock Lesnar to bring in a couple of big PPVs the UFC will still grow this year. I think at worst it will be a flat year in overall PPV buys. Even if you think that growth is peaking and fans are suffering from PPV saturation, I think the brand keeps pulling in or at least cycling through casual fans.

    Also, I don’t see any big boxing events in 2011 other than Manny vs. The Top Rank Can of the Month Club which should help the UFC.

  7. mmaguru on January 10th, 2011 11:28 AM

    The per capita market demand has most likely peaked if we look at the averages:
    PPV buy-rate average – 598 K = 2010 and 596.5 K – 2009
    and if we look at the TV ratings picture we would probably see a slight decline. And as Jason has stated, without Brock or someone like him the chances of a 800 K PPV buy-rate gets interestingly more difficult.

    Opening new markets will be the key to the UFC’s growthin 2011. This can be achieved globally. Domestically, there is little room for growth unless they can somehow get on one of the big four networks or HBO.

  8. Jose Mendoza on January 10th, 2011 3:43 PM

    135 lbs Champ Dominick Cruz is also out until the summer. If there is no GSP or Lesnar fighting on a card, the UFC needs a hell of a storyline (Evans vs Rampage) to get close to 1 mill PPV buys.

    Matt C:

    You absolutely have your hardcore MMA fan blinders on.

  9. Sergio on January 10th, 2011 5:35 PM

    If the UFC needs starpower, Why wouldnt they feed Pettis a can or at least a decent fighter,put that match on prelim/co-main event of Edgar vs Manard 3,Plug the fight on the basis of what it is,give him the opportunity to pull off another “Showtime Kick” and set him up for winner of Edgar vs Manard?
    Pride was infamous for setting up these type of sinarios and they usually panned
    out pretty well.I understand JMMA is plugged different that in the states but I think this is the one of a few times it could work out well.
    Im saying all this cuz Dana needs to learn from the Sheilds vs Kampmann matchup Jakes debut was a disappointment to alot of us esp Dana in building him for GSP but if lack of starpower and PPV numbers are expected to dip in 2011 then match ups need to change.

    P.S…I think GSP vs Silva would be a farce n one sided massacre n cost
    Dana millions (via GSP to take a beating) to put together but could bust 1million
    ppv buys.Dana would consider pulling the trigger on this matchup if ufc ppv numbers werent where they expected by 2nd half,3rd quarter of the year

  10. jim on January 10th, 2011 9:29 PM

    Will the lighter weight WEC guys ever be able to headline an event? Or will they always need some co-main with some heavier weight stars?

    I’m new to UFC and MMA — only started watching last year to bond with my younger brother. Before I started going to MMA websites I pretty much had only heard of Liddell, Rampage, Couture and Lesnar. I’m a pretty big sports fan, so it’s amazing how few of the fighters pop into mainstream consciousness.

    I find the business side of UFC pretty fascinating, so I especially appreciate this site.

  11. BrainSmasher on January 10th, 2011 10:16 PM


    It will be hard for them to be headliners. Not to say it will never happen. It all depends on who the champ is. If the champ is popular like a Faber or Aldo then they will always be the headline or co headline. But outside of that it will be rare to see them headline. Smaller weights done draw that well. But on the bright side there are few guys on any weight that can headline without a belt. Starting out with the lack of awareness to the UFC fan base even the champs will be lower on the card with the exception of who ever fights for the 155 belt. But in the end regardless of weight the belt is the key as mma payout has shown. Title fights sell and the UFC added the WEC and smaller class’ to get more belts to spread out across the PPVs. So you really need a belt to headline and in a year or so that will apply to the WEC belts also. The smaller guys are at a disadvantage but not so much they cant over come it. Welcome to the sport, Jim.

  12. mmaguru on January 11th, 2011 2:02 PM

    Hey Jim,
    Did you know about Tito Ortiz or Ken Shamrock? Tito, Ken and GSP also make/made mainstream coverage at times.

  13. jim on January 11th, 2011 4:18 PM

    When I finally saw Tito there was a vague glint of recognition. But Shamrock and GSP were totally new to me. The two guys I mainly knew about were Lidell and Rampage.

  14. Jason Cruz on January 12th, 2011 9:52 AM

    MMA Guru:

    I really doubt that the UFC adds PPVs at this point. I think they are at the threshold for having its fans pay $50-$60 a month. Maybe they plug 1 or 2 more in where you feature the lower weight divisions, but I think that would be pushing it. I also think that the UFC will gage the buys in the first quarter of the year in terms of planning the last half.

    In thinking of big card PPV buys this year, August’s Brazil PPV will produce a big number. My prediction alone. I think that the UFC will want to do a big show for its return.

  15. Jason Cruz on January 12th, 2011 10:05 AM


    I think Jose Aldo will headline a PPV in the future. Maybe not this year, but he is a dynamic fighter that can end a fight at a moment’s notice. Urijah Faber is another. Aside from those two, I don’t think any other fighter in the lighter weight divisions (145lb and under) could carry a PPV..

  16. EJ on January 13th, 2011 2:34 AM

    I have nothing but respect for Melzter but as of late he’s been off his game and this article is just another example of that. I mean like the day after he wrote this Brock was booked against Dos Santos and the UFC was stacking even more cards this year.

    The fact is the UFC should have had a bigger year last year than they did but lot of injuries gave them much lower buyrates than they expected. As we’ve seen already from UFC 125 to UFC 131 their cards have been ultra packed with talented fighter and great fights and the buyrates will follow.

    Unless the UFC goes through another huge bash of injuries they will continue to grow and break all of their records. See if the UFC can still grow after many of their stars being unable to perform they can do the same with 1 or 2 guys on the shelf.

  17. Shawn on March 3rd, 2011 10:07 AM

    If the ufc didnt have all the injuries like theu did last year they willhave a biger year to there not 1 card thay geys 8k to a mil thisyear ur insain

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