Payout Perspective: UFC debuts on ESPN

January 22, 2019

Welcome to a special edition of Payout Perspective.  We take a look at the UFC’s debut on ESPN and ESPN+ this past Saturday at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Cejudo KOs TJ in R1

Henry Cejudo may have saved the UFC Flyweight Division as he knocked out T.J. Dillashaw to retain his flyweight title.  Cejudo stunned Dillashaw with unassuming punch which knocked the bantamweight down. From there, Cejudo swarmed Dillashaw and the ref stepped in.

From first look, I thought that this was a quick stoppage as they usually allow a little more action for the fighter to recover in championship matches.  But after watching again, with less than a minute gone by in the round there was no way that Dillashaw could have held on and/or recovered.

Cejudo becomes the first champ to receive the new (and maybe controversial) UFC redesigned belt.  He also received props form Nikki Bella which may have been the biggest payoff. While Joseph Benavidez may be the next in light in the flyweight division, its clear that Cejudo would like to take this momentum and challenge Dillashaw for his 135 pound title.  One would think that Dillashaw will want a rematch as he claimed that the stoppage was too soon.

Hardy DQ’d in UFC debut

It was a controversial decision to have Greg Hardy fight on the ESPN debut.  It drew even more raised eyebrows when the UFC put him in the co-main event of the evening especially when you had Paige Van Zant and Donald Cerrone and Alexander Hernandez on the card as well.  Yet, Hardy faced Allen Crowder in a Heavyweight matchup.

While the imposing Hardy may have intimidated on the regional scene, it was Crowder that taunted the former football player.  But it was a knee to the head of a grounded opponent which, as Daniel Cormier described was “very illegal.”  There was no way for Crowder to continue after the knee and it was a disqualification.

Inauspicious debut for Hardy although the UFC does see something in him.  He is still a controversial figure considering his lack of contrition for his past domestic violence past.  We shall how the UFC books him in the future.  One thinks he will be a “Fight Night” athlete until he gets some more seasoning.

Attendance, Gate and Bonuses

The Barclay’s Center drew 12,152 fans for a gate of $1.23 million.  The last big UFC event at the Barclay’s Center was UFC 223 in April which drew 17,026 for a 3 million gate. Prior to that, UFC 208 in February 2017 which drew 15,628 for a gate of 2.275 million.

In comparison, the UFC’s debut on FS1 on August 21, 2013 drew 12,539 for a gate of $1.53 million at the TD Garden in Boston.  The main event was Chael Sonnen as he submitted Shogun Rua.

Pre-Fight Promotion

Having ESPN as a television partner dramatically increased the marketing and promotion of the event.  The UFC Countdown show for UFC 232 aired on ESPN and starting at the beginning of January you saw the UFC creeping into the network.  The fight library entered the digital platform for ESPN and during Fight Week there was a plethora of fights airing on ESPN2 and other networks.

Dana White did the ESPN car wash and was also on the Jimmy Kimmel Show among other outlets for the event.  ESPN+ also had a very good (if you could find it) shoulder programming featuring Dillashaw and Cejudo.

It was interesting that the criticism of having Greg Hardy and Rachael Ostovich died day during Fight Week.  This could be in part due to ESPN controlling the narrative and the airwaves and the casual ESPN media person not knowing much about the sport.  ESPN Outside the Lines did do a piece on Hardy but outside of that, there was not much else.

Sponsorships

The sponsors in the Octagon included Monster Energy sharing a post with Fastrac, Modelo, Toyo Tires, Nemiroff, Blackheart and Monster had the center of the Octagon.  ESPN+ was visible with signage in the Octagon as well.

UFC sponsor Van Heusen secured signage in the area where the corner stands outside the Octagon.  A new place for sponsors.

The prep point was given a new name and was sponsored by P3,

Also, Body Armor had all the water bottles and corner stools.

Paige Van Zant, who was dropped by Reebok prior to her fight on Saturday, picked up a new sponsor with Liv Body.

Odds and ends

Steven A. Smith on the broadcast was cringeworthy but he was not an embarrassment.  He relied on Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier to do a bulk of the legwork when discussing the fight.  In addition, I thought Trevor Wittman did well as an “expert” chiming in on fight strategy, etc.

The pacing could have been better but it was on par with what the UFC did on Fox.  Notably, there were commercials on ESPN+.

It could have been a little confusing for fans that had to switch from the digital platform to see the early prelims, then watch the prelims on ESPN and then tune back on plus to get the main card.  Hopefully, they will avoid doing this in the future.

We’ll get to see the ratings for this event in the next day or so, although I would think it had to do well over 1 million viewers.

The lead-in to the ESPN portion of the Prelims started 12-15 minutes late.  Fortunately, the college game featured Duke-Virgina, a battle of two of the top 5 teams in the nation.  There was also an early NBA game on ABC which promoted the UFC card too.

The UFC had over 1 million google searches on Saturday which came in second to Chiefs with over 5 million which related to the Kansas City-New England game.  Greg Hardy and Paige Van Zant had over 200,000 searches.  Donald Cerrone had over 100,000.

Proposed dates for further UFC Antitrust hearings won’t happen until August or September

January 21, 2019

If you were hoping for a resolution to the UFC Antitrust Lawsuit in 2019, we have some bad news for you.  It’s unlikely to happen.

A letter filed by the plaintiffs on Friday indicates that both sides won’t make an appearance in the courtroom until this fall.

Letter Re Scheduling by on Scribd

In December, Zuffa filed its Motion for Summary Judgment but prior to any decision, the Judge wanted to understand more of the information offered by the experts, specificially plaintiffs’ expert, Hal Singer.  The parties were to meet and confer on available dates.

As one might expect, lawyer calendars (as well as the Court’s) are packed.  Thus, the first available scheduling option proposed is for August 26-30, 2019 with Dr. Singer and UFC’s expert, Dr. Topel.  In the alternative, they proposed an evidentiary hearing which would start September 9th or 16th.

Payout Perspective:

Clearly, the Court moves at a glacial (without global warming) pace.  Clearing schedules for attorneys, the Court and the experts is quite hard and if you thought this was going to end this year, you (and I) were wrong.  Even with these hearings, there are the prospects of renewed motion for summary judgments and the class certification hearing (to determine if the case deserves class action status).  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

UFC debut on ESPN off to good start

January 20, 2019

ESPN announced that it has received over 568,000 subscribers of its ESPN+ service on Friday and Saturday in light of the UFC’s first show on the digital platform. It also announced big viewership numbers for Saturday’s event.

The $5 per month service stated it received 525,000 subscribers on Saturday alone.  It marks the biggest event on the digital platform and the largest subscription driver for the ESPN+ thus far.

The ESPN press release stated:

The UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ Prelims card aired on ESPN (English) and ESPN Deportes (Spanish) from 8:15 -10 p.m. ET. The telecast averaged a 1.4 metered market rating, making it the highest-rated UFC Fight Night Prelims on cable since at least 2013.

Web traffic saw more than 1.8 million unique viewers for MMA-related content across ESPN platforms.

Payout Perspective:

We should get more detailed viewership numbers later this week but its clear that the partnership should propel the UFC to more awareness from the casual fan.  ESPN promoted the UFC show during the ABC NBA game that afternoon as well as the Virginia-Duke game which preceded the UFC on ESPN.  There was an overrun between the two top-5 teams in the country which made MMA fans a little mad, but no one missed any fights.  The subscription numbers are interesting to see but retention numbers (the number of subscribers that retain the service after the free introduction) will be more important.

UFC on ESPN+1 attendance, gate and bonuses

January 20, 2019

UFC on ESPN+1 drew 12,152 fans for a gate of $1.23 million at the Barclay’s Center according to the UFC.  The event was the promotion’s debut on the network.

The main event saw Henry Cejudo retain his flyweight championship by stopping T.J. Dillashaw in the first round.  Also on the card, the controversial Heavyweight debut of Greg Hardy ended in a disqualification against the former NFL player as he landed a blatant and illegal knee to Allen Crowder.  It appeared that Hardy had no idea that it was against the rule.

The event bonuses went to Cejudo, Donald Cerrone and Alexander Hernandez.  Cerrone was a double bonus winner for his stoppage of the up and coming Hernandez.  The two won Fight of the Night for their performance.  Cejudo cashed in a $50K bonus for his KO of Dillashaw.

Payout Perspective:

There were actually several other fighters on the card that could have received a Performance Bonus but Cejudo and Cerrone were the most outstanding.  The event received much-hype and fans seemed to gravitate to it despite a Pacquiao fight on PPV and a flyweight fight as the main event.

UFC unveils new championship belt

January 18, 2019

The UFC unveiled its new title belt on Friday prior to its debut on ESPN.  The belt replaces the old UFC belt and has some new features to it.

The belt was to be unveiled at UFC 232 but with the Jon Jones fiasco, the UFC did not want the unveiling to be buried.

The Legacy championship belt will be given to the winner of the Henry Cejudo-T.J. Dillashaw Flyweight title bout.

The belt weight a little over 10 pounds and 8 countries are represented on the front plate by flags of the countries of the first UFC champions.  There are 25 stones which represent 25 years of the UFC. The left plate will be customized for every fighter that wins one.  It will have their name and weight class as well as their nation’s flag. For every successful title defense, there will be a red stone.

One notable change is that champions will receive one belt unless they fight for the belt in another division.  It replaces the old UFC custom of awarding a new belt for each defense. So there will be no scenes like this anymore:

Payout Perspective:

The new belt has received mixed reviews.  While the belt seems to be well-thought out with some nice touches in reference to its history, it also seems like an unnecessary makeover for the sake of a makeover.  The unveiling makes sense this weekend, its debut on ESPN.  We’ll see if the sales of replica belts take off like it has in pro wrestling.

PBC on Fox Sports Sunday night drew 761,000 viewers

January 15, 2019

PBC on Fox Sports 1 Sunday night drew 761,000 viewers according to Nielsen via ShowBuzz Daily.  The event drew 210,000 in the A18-49 demo and a 0.5 overall share.

The event featured Jose Uzcategui taking on Caleb Plant for the 168-pound IBF belt.  The Challenger, Plant, took the belt in an upset.

The telecast featured two other fights with KOs in them.

Payout Perspective:

This is a very good rating for an event that took advantage of the advertising during the Divisional Playoff weekend on Fox.  The Sunday night main event started after the Saints-Eagles game so that may have helped with fans.  This is a good start for the year for PBC on FS1 as it takes over full-time from the UFC.

6 month USADA sanction for UFC flyweight

January 15, 2019

UFC flyweight Jennifer Maia accepted a six-month sanction for violation of the UFC Anti-Doping Policy after she tested positive for a contaminated dietary supplement.

Per the UFC Anti-Doping Policy:

Maia, 30, tested positive for furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide, chlorothiazide, and the thiazide metabolite 4-amino-6-chloro-1,3-benzenedisulfonamide (ACB), following an out-of-competition test conducted on August 16, 2018. These substances are Specified Substances in the class of Diuretics and Masking Agents and are prohibited at all times under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, which has adopted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List.

During an investigation into the circumstances of her case, opened and sealed containers of a dietary supplement she was using at the time of the August 16, 2018 sample collection, and that she declared on her doping control form, were sent to the WADA-accredited laboratory in Brazil for analysis. Although no prohibited substances were listed on the supplement label, the analysis revealed that both contained the prohibited substances for which Maia tested positive. Accordingly, this product has been added to the High Risk List of supplements maintained on USADA’s online dietary supplement safety education and awareness resource – Supplement 411 (www.Supplement411.org). Further, USADA reminds athletes that dietary supplement products marketed for weight loss carry significant risk to contain prohibited prescription medications, such as diuretics.

Under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, as well as the World Anti-Doping Code, the determination that an athlete’s positive test was caused by a contaminated product may result in a reduced sanction. The sanction for a doping offense resulting from the use of a contaminated product ranges from a reprimand and no period of ineligibility to a two-year period of ineligibility.

Maia’s period of ineligibility began on August 31, 2018.  Maia has had just one fight in the UFC, a loss to Liz Carmouche in July 2018 in Boise.  Prior t that, she was the Invicta FC Flyweight Champion.

Payout Perspective:

This is another situation where a contaminated supplement yields a sanction despite the fact the fighter had been forthcoming with the information for USADA.  It was clear based on the investigation that the supplement she took was contaminated.  Moreover, the supplement was not on the “high risk” list of supplements.  And while her suspension was reduced from two years to six months, it would seem that she would not have to serve any penalty based on the facts.

 

UFC Fight Pass to air Eddie Bravo’s Combat Jiu-Jitsu event featuring Barnett, Werdum

January 14, 2019

The UFC announced that it will stream a Combat Jiu-Jitsu Fight Night on UFC Fight Pass which will feature a four-man elimination tournament including former UFC heavyweight champions Fabricio Werdum and Josh Barnett.

The event will air live and exclusively on UFC Fight Pass on Friday night February, 22 at 7pm PT.  The event also features wrestler Rustam Chsiev and Gordon Ryan.  The event is promoted by Eddie Bravo and will feature an innovative rule set.  While on the ground, openhanded palm strikes to the head and body become legal when the grapplers are on the ground.

According to the press release from the UFC, it was originally scheduled as a PPV event, but Bravo was able to work out a deal with the UFC show that it could stream on Fight Pass.

Payout Perspective:

The event should be one of many that we’ll see on UFC Fight Pass this year as it tries to introduce more original content to entice viewers to stay with the digital platform.  With the UFC-ESPN relationship, fans will find themselves needing to subscribe to ESPN+ and the UFC realizes that they will need to do something to maintain its base of subscribers for UFC Fight Pass.  Not everyone is into Pride replays and the original content will need to be something to entice fans to continue to pay $9.99 per month.

UFC announces Motel 6 at “Official Economy Lodging Partner”

January 14, 2019

The UFC officially announced that Motel 6 as the “Official Economy Lodging Partner” of the UFC on Monday. The company logo visible in the Octagon at UFC events.

According to the UFC press release:

UFC®, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, today announced a new integrated marketing partnership with Motel 6, the leading economy lodging provider with more than 1,430 owned and franchised hotels across the United States and Canada.

Under the terms of the agreement, Motel 6 becomes UFC’s first-ever “Official Economy Lodging Partner,” creating a new sponsorship category for the MMA promotion. In return, Motel 6 will have a branded presence inside UFC’s world-famous Octagon® for select UFC events, including several Pay-Per-Views and a variety of ESPN and ESPN+ telecasts.

“We’re excited to join with Motel 6 to create a new partnership category for UFC,” said Paul Asencio, UFC Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships. “This new agreement strengthens our relationship with Motel 6 and allows our respective brands to work together to grow our customers in key markets.”

UFC and Motel 6 have partnered on several UFC events since November 2017.

Elevating our partnership with the UFC will enhance the visibility of the Motel 6 brand across a diverse, multi-channel sports platform,” said Lance Miceli, Chief Revenue Officer at G6 Hospitality, owner and franchisor of the Motel 6 and Studio 6 brands. “We’re excited for the activation opportunities to increase engagement among our guest population and UFC’s substantial fan base.”

Additional partnership activations will include in-venue commercials, branded integrations in select UFC Pay-Per-Views and collaborations on digital and social media campaigns. Motel 6 will also have a branded presence at several UFC Fan Experience activations in the U.S.

Payout Perspective:

The wording of the partnership keeps open the potential to have an “Official Hotel Partner” of the UFC in addition to Motel 6. The timing of the announcement makes sense since the UFC debuts on ESPN+ and UFC programming has been flooding ESPN’s networks of late. It is also another sponsorship secured under the new regime of Endeavor (WME-IMG).

Silva lobbies for return of testosterone therapy

January 12, 2019

Anderson Silva is in favor of USADA drug testing in the UFC despite being flagged for testing positive for a banned substance.  In a recent interview, Silva is advocating for the return of testosterone replacement therapy.

Silva also tested positive for a banned substance at UFC 183 in February 2015.

In an interview with a Brazilian outlet, Silva advocated for the use of “hormonal replacement” therapy.  He stated, “I think, if USADA regulated that, we’d have the sport at a high level, with athletes who have stopped fighting.”

Silva stated that USADA’s presence in testing was a good thing but he believes that the organization needs to review its rules to tailor the testing to the needs of the fighters.

Silva meets Israel Adesanya at UFC 234.

Payout Perspective:

It appears that Silva is advocating for the return of testosterone replacement therapy.  This practice was allowed by commissions if an athlete was able to prove that they suffered from low testosterone.  Athletes would be able to receive hormonal replacement.  But, with the older you get, naturally the more testosterone you would lose.  So athletes would be able to find an end around on this issue and be able to take advantage.  Silva does talk about older fighters able to prolong their careers based on this.  But you have to weigh the practicality of the need versus those that are gaming the system.  While Silva advocating for ways to keep himself going, it would be a detriment to others.

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