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.

The Poll

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.

Payout Perspective:

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.

 

16 Responses to “ESPN Poll shows MMA big in key demos”

  1. jose on October 8th, 2012 9:46 PM

    Women’s interest in boxing and mma isn’t driven by female fighters. It’s driven by exciting male fighters, just like men’s interest.

  2. Brian on October 9th, 2012 9:18 AM

    It’s Dolph Ziggler, not Dirk

  3. Jake on October 9th, 2012 1:47 PM

    Any idea where I can find all the results of these polls? Or can MMA payout post them?

  4. jasonX on October 9th, 2012 2:55 PM

    The article seems to be incredibly slanted to paint MMA in a good light. It’s like Melter’z comment was added purely to boost that perception. I don’t see why people have to say why MMA is the sport of the future or will over take boxing. All I’m seeing here is that a decent chunk of young people enjoy both. One doesn’t have to over take or kill off the other.

    IMO Meltzer’s comment at the end seems a bit dated at this stage. The cliche “casual boxing fans only care about two guys” seems a bit worn when HBO managed to take to relatively unknown (in the US) boxers in Chavez and Sergio and turn them into PPV draws over night while at the exact same time getting record ratings on Showtime for Canelo. They also have Cotto doing some pretty good numbers. Times are a changing.

  5. Tops of on October 9th, 2012 5:31 PM

    This is a UFC spin article. Because of the truth that mma has peaked already.which is the truth .because if the UFC don’t put out an article like this the next line from the media would be mma is dead! Lol which Dana used to describe boxing in the early 2000. One of the reason people don’t listen to Dana anymore is that what he preaches dosent come true .boxing is dead it’s still alive after 8 yrs of declaring it.mma would be big like soccer…it hasnt happen and would never happen..

  6. Brain Smasher on October 9th, 2012 6:15 PM

    I disagree on Dana’s treatment of Jones. That is exactly how to promote a star when that star has already failed to deliver under normal circiumstances. Jones good guy personality wasnt winning anyone over. His PPV buys were par for any 205 belt holder. How much worth does he have if he loses the belt? Without it he doesnt have the following of even a Machida or Shogun. Lets not forget that Jones was on Jay Leno and made a good impression. He was a nice guy. But it wasnt turning into PPV interest. Dana White did for him what he did for Silva who was too nice of a guy. He turned them into bad guys and just like with Silva he will sell more PPVs. On short notice vs Belfort who isnt a draw and was a 185 fighter. Few people were aware of the musical chairs of 152. Yet it still sold as well as Jones fight with Machida, Jackson, and Rua. His fight with Machida was in the same caity and the same arena and has a stacked undercard with Mir/Nog, Tito/Lil Nog. Yet 152 almost matched it exactly. IMo this is a sign of the boost Jones buying power was given. In his next fights with proper marketing time and a 205 challenger we will see for curtain his PPV buys consistantly higher than before. Even with a sample size of 1 event we can still see that Dana White had no negative effect on Jon Jones.

  7. Sampson Simpson on October 9th, 2012 8:08 PM

    Miss White? Defending your fat, stupid, hubby again?

  8. Brain Smasher on October 9th, 2012 9:43 PM

    Jealous Homer? Should i cry like a baby and let Dana pull my strings like he does you? “Argg Dana you mock my fantasy lover Jon Jones. I hate you forever!”. I’ll leave that for you. I on the other hand will support my stance with facts and will be here day 1 when later Jones PPV buys increase to cram it down your throat. What he did for Silva is proven be it by accident or design. The same is happening for Jones because fans are sheep like you. Dana doesnt want you to like him. Thats why he has you eating out of his hand.

  9. Sampson Simpson on October 9th, 2012 11:27 PM

    I’m just happy to see the UFC tanking to the bottom of the ocean. You… on the other hand are simply too happy to continue playing the violin as the ship sinks…

  10. Sampson Simpson on October 10th, 2012 8:03 AM

    Can you imagine the demographics if they included the population above 34? It’d look like 99.99 percent for boxing while the rest get crumbs.

    That’d be on a global level.

  11. Brain Smasher on October 10th, 2012 5:16 PM

    What about in 10 years when all the boxing fans have died of old age? What would it look like then? 99.9999 for MMA and Sampson Simpson in his wheel chair talking about the glory days of boxing. The corruption, the cherry picking, the fight ducking, the 10,000 belts and all that good stuff!

  12. Sampson Simpson on October 10th, 2012 6:42 PM

    Corruption, Cherry Picking, Fight Ducking? Sounds like UFC of today if you ask me.

  13. Brain Smasher on October 11th, 2012 12:13 AM

    really? What fight has us fans been denied? We get every fight we ever want within weeks. Show me corruption? fighters will always duck fights. BUt the UFC is there to make sure they dont get away with it and not prosper as a ducker. Unlike boxing where it goes on for years at a time with the very best fighters. So when are FMJ and Pacman fighting? Ah, thats right there isnt enough money in the world to make them fight and no one has the power to make them fight and they dont have the balls to want to fight each other and boxing fans like you are stupid enough to keep buying their fights so they make the same money by not fighting each other. Prood positive that MMA fans are educated and boxing fans are not!

  14. Sampson Simpson on October 11th, 2012 5:37 AM

    Dana? Get back to work you bald cry baby

  15. Mike on November 26th, 2012 3:10 PM

    Is there a link or citation for this ESPN poll? Thanks

  16. Pineapple on November 29th, 2012 11:57 AM

    Funny thing about this article is it doesn’t mention that Boxing is about twice the size as MMA in the US. Recently Meltzer said the number of boxing fans is 50 million and rising while an old MMApayout article from 2010 said MMA’s fan base is 31 million – not including 2011 drop off.

    Also if boxing and MMA are almost identical with the 18-34 demo then how is MMA primed to take over boxing? Couldn’t you as easy say the same thing about boxing taking over MMA?

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