ESPN Poll shows MMA big in key demos
October 8, 2012
The Sports Business Journal and Figure Four Online examined the annual ESPN Poll which took a look at the popularity of Boxing, MMA and professional wrestling. The poll suggests that MMA is primed to take over the fight landscape.
The conclusion is that the UFC is primed to take over boxing and it is buoyed by its brand dominance.
The ESPN Poll is based on 5,146 interviews from January – July 2012.
Below are some interesting insights from Rich Luker, the founder of Luker on Trends and the ESPN Poll.
Almost half (48%) of Americans ages 12 and over are fans of one of the forms of fighting explored here: boxing, MMA and/or professional wrestling. 75% of the fight fans follow 2 or three types of fighting. 58% of fans describing themselves as “avid fans” have interest in two or three fighting forms.
Despite its Fox deal and appearing quarterly on network television, the poll reflects the fact that MMA has not surpassed boxing in terms of fans. Although MMA was ahead of boxing from 2007-2010 in terms of avid fans, boxing surpassed MMA in 2011.
Key Demo Numbers
The ESPN Poll points out there are several factors culled from the poll that reflect the fact that MMA is the fighting sport of the future.
Specifically, it is the 13th-largest general fan base and eighth-largest avid fan base, “which is remarkable at a time when it is hard for a new sport to emerge,” according to the SBJ.
Also, an average of 60.5% of those polled ages 12-54 are a fan of MMA and a little over 24% of fans ages 12-54 consider themselves avid fans of MMA.
Looking at the 2012 numbers, when asked if you had any interest in the sport, in the most important male 18-34 demographic MMA has a slight lead over boxing.
Boxing: M18-34 66.6%
MMA: M18-34 67.4%
Pro Wrestling: M18-34 35.6%
For women 18-34, MMA has a bigger lead over boxing.
Boxing: W18-34 41.2%
MMA: W18-34 44.0%
Pro Wrestling: W18-34 24.6%
One of the takeaways made by F4WOnline is that boxing and MMA get its fans to attend events, while pro wrestling (i.e., WWE) gets its fans to watch its weekly shows.
Would MMA dip like World Series of Poker?
Remember WSOP? The craze in which the unthinkable happened. People watched other people play poker.
The poker craze saw incredible ratings and then the ratings treated. The SBJ cites the fact of the lack of personal investment in the game, rather more an instructional video on how to play poker than interest in the sport. Personally, two more reasons hurt the sport. First, the investment in following a poker player was hard to do if a favorite such as Phil Hellmuth, is eliminated in the first day of the World Series of Poker. How does television produce around that? Secondly, the ban on online gambling negated interest since many casual people were willing to try on their computer but not in a casino to play. When legislation was passed to stop online gambling, many saw no reason to watch.
Women on the Rise
The article notes that women interest in MMA could be a key component to the future. The poll states that women’s interest in boxing from 2002-2012 is up for women. The avid interest in women ages 12-54 is stronger in MMA than older men 55 and older. The rise of women participating in boxing and MMA is cited as the reasons for the increased interest. This is the reason why we see Ronda Rousey at every UFC event and why she is the future of women’s MMA. It is also why we’ve seen the interest in InvictaFC.
Speaking with Fertitta
ESPN asked Lorenzo Fertitta about the UFC’s numbers being down over the past two years and Fertitta noted the fighter injuries, the switch to a new network and reestablishing its relationship with the fans on television.
Dave Meltzer offers his opinion on the poll via F4WOnline (subscription required and highly recommended):
My theory about the wrestling audience changing is that it has a super loyal audience, the same basic people; Raw has its audience, Smackdown has its audience. Impact has its audience. Every now and then, like if The Rock comes back and it’s advertised well, or Raw 1,000, or any kind of nostalgia theme, you can pick up the Raw audience. But they seem to have very little interest outside of their group. In the past, we used to joke about casual fans, who watch every now and then, but are aware of many if not all the big names. Pretty much any sports fan could tell you the names of the top wrestlers then who were active, but if you ask today, past John Cena, any names mentioned are going to be stars from another era. That’s the difference between Ric Flair showing up at an NHL game in 1989 (or even 2012) and people mobbing him, and C.M. Punk or the Miz doing so today , and nobody knowing who they are.
There are more people aware of boxing because it’s covered as a mainstream sport, but people don’t watch it weekly on television. They only care about two guys now, and in MMA, you have the mix.
An astute observation on the key audiences by Meltzer. And something that each of the sports would like to change. The WWE is criticized at times for not pushing certain talent while recycling older talent. But, it’s easier to sell HHH and the Undertaker more than CM Punk and Sheamus. This is true especially for the SummerSlams and Wrestlemanias. Its why Brock Lesnar or The Rock are much safer bet to main event these shows than a Dirk Ziggler or Daniel Bryan. But, the WWE has the necessary platforms to give one of its stars the necessary push. It still takes time for this to happen.
For as much as we’ve asked whether boxing is making a comeback, it appears that it made it back to overall popularity in 2011. Moreover, the numbers reflect that boxing has not really dropped in popularity.
The rise of women’s interest in the sport should resonate with MMA and MMA brands. Ronda Rousey is the face of women’s MMA and has been a good ambassador for the sport of women’s MMA. Rousey has a following of young women that follow her because of their interest in the MMA. If we have not seen it already, fight apparel and gear will take more a focus in marketing to women.
We shall see what the UFC can do to cultivate more stars for fans to follow. Interesting that Dana White has had run-ins with two of the organizations biggest stars: Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Moreover, White threw Jones under the bus for UFC 151 before cooler heads prevailed. That’s not a way to promote a star.