March 10, 2014
This past weekend, the UFC held Ultimate Fight Night 37: Gustafsson vs Manuwa from London’s O2 Arena. The main event aired on the United Kingdom’s Channel 5 network, a first for the UFC in the market, which holds a 4.4% share of total monthly TV viewers in the UK.
According to British TV website, DigitalSpy, 591,000 (3.01%) tuned in to see the main event between Alexander Gustafsson and Jimi Manuwa at 9PM. At 8PM, an episode of NCIS drew 629,000 (2.73%) served as a lead in for the UFC main event. As for viewership from other networks during the same time-slot, Channel 4 drew 630,000 viewers (4.35%) for an airing of X-Men: The Last Stand. BBC Four airing of “Salamander” drew 852,000 viewers (3.9%). ITV3 aired an “Endeavour”, which drew 799,000 viewers (4.07%). BBC Three’s airing of comedy “Blades of Glory” drew 606,000 viewers (3.06%).
UFC’s UFN 37 main event had the lowest viewership and share percentage compared to the listed network competitors above for the 9PM time-slot. The event also failed to crack to the top 30 television programs of the week for the UK.
Numbers for the entire card, which aired on BT Sport 2, are not yet known, but UFC events on the network typically do less than 100,000 viewers. The previous UFC event which took place in the UK (UFN 30: Machida vs Munoz from Manchester) and aired on BT Sport 2 drew 32,000 viewers. In terms of Fight Pass viewership numbers, it is estimated that a couple of hundred thousand viewers signed up for Fight Pass, which MMAPayout has estimated the viewership range for this event at around 100,000-200,000 fight pass viewers for the streamed event.
The UFC event did decent numbers for its network debut on Channel 5, but came up short from being a great debut. It was beaten by most of the Channel 5′s major competitors for the time-slot and paled in comparison to previous boxing events aired on the network. Tyson Fury vs Dereck Chisora in 2011 drew 2.26M viewers and peaked at at 2.9M viewers. Tyson Fury vs Kevin Johnson on December of 2012 drew 1.25M viewers and peaked at 1.63m. In April 2013, Tyson Fury vs Steve Cunningham drew 1.5M viewers. Also last year, a boxing bout between Kid Galahad vs James Dickens drew 858,000 viewers on the network. In comparing both numbers, keep in mind that boxing in the UK is much more mainstream and popular than MMA.
In terms of MMA comparisons on the network, UK’s local MMA promotion, BAMMA, debuted on Channel 5 with BAMMA 6. That show was headline by Tom Watson vs Ninja Rua in 2012 and drew 500,000 viewers.
March 10, 2014
Before the Ultimate Fight Night 37 London card, Dana White held one of his infamous pre-fight scrums where he tried to clear up some of the misconceptions regarding Fight Pass, including why Alexander Gustafsson ended up fighting on Fight Pass after a huge fight against Jon Jones on PPV last year.
Dana White addressing Fight Pass to the UK MMA media:
“First of all, the fight is being distributed to 350 million possible viewers [lists all countries available]. In the UK, the entire will be on BT Sport and the main event for the first time ever here will be on Channel 5, open TV to everybody… The Americans have to pay for it on Fight Pass. So the reason that this happened is, we added 10 more fights, we went to FOX and try to see if FOX would pick up these 10 more fights, and they didn’t. So that’s why we put these on Fight Pass. They create their budgets at the beginning of the year and it wasn’t in their budget to pick up these fights. You know, not to say they don’t pick them up later, or whatever could happen with the deal, but that’s what happened. So, it’s either no one gets to see them or you put them on Fight Pass. So, I hope that clears up some of the questions about Fight Pass… and anybody else and the rest of the world and countries I didn’t call, that I didn’t say a minute ago, they get it on Fight Pass too. Which of course all these people in other countries are pumped to pay for it on Fight Pass, whereas the Americans who are used to getting these fights for free, some of them are a little twisted, but whatever, what are you going to do.”
These pre-fight scrums have historically produced some of the more interesting tidbits and have shed some light into what goes on behind the scenes of their business. This was no different as Dana White specifically mentions that their mainstream television network partner, FOX, chose not to pickup these extra 10 UFC events, hence why UFN 37 and some more future fights will end up on Fight Pass instead of one of the FOX sport networks for American MMA fans. That decision alone will cost avid UFC fans 10$ a month, or an extra $120 a year in addition to the already existing cost of UFC PPVs (13 PPVs in 2014). If you add up the cost of Fight Pass and PPV events, the total cost of being an American MMA fan (not including your cable bill or attending live events) is around $900 dollars. As a contrast, NFL, MLB, and NBA let their fans subscribe to season subscription packages that only cost around $200-250 dollars, which is only about 25% of the cost of an American MMA fan in 2014. In fact, just buying 4 UFC PPV events would exceed the entire season’s cost of all major sports.
The other part of White’s statement that sticks out here is the difference in relationship the UFC has with FOX compared to Spike TV. FOX picked up the UFC as a sports property to be aired on their sport networks. Other sports have a fixed number of events that never change. You make a deal for a number of events and that’s what you air. FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2 have to balance all their sport properties, and lets face it, the more mainstream sports such as NASCAR, MLB, and even NCAA Basketball will get priority on FS1. The UFC was able to add events on a whim in the past and Spike TV was more than happy to do it as they didn’t air any other sports or conflicting programming that would also give them good ratings.
This is not the case now that the UFC is on a sports network. It’s also the reason why something that doesn’t have full promotional support, such as TUF Nations, is getting bounced around between FS1 and FS2 and has bottomed out at below 100,000 viewers. The next season of TUF on Fox Sports 1 will be crucial for the UFC to see if they can regain the momentum picked up last season. With the addition of Fight Pass, their current product is currently scattered between FOX, FS1, FS2, PPV, and Fight Pass (subscription), which has been argued as a necessity for UFC international expansion to be a success. But at the same time, it also leaves a portion of its American fan base, as Dana White put it, a bit “twisted”. UFC and FOX failed to come into an event agreement for 2014 that other networks around the world were able to make, and because of that, American fans are left to foot the bill.
March 9, 2014
Prior to UFC Fight Night 37 on Saturday, the UFC announced the launch of its digital network, Fight Pass internationally.
The network can now be accessed in 178 countries giving it the opportunity to be seen in most parts of the world.
UFCFightPass has GONE GLOBAL! Now in 178 countries and territories around the world. First of it kind, first around the world. ;D
— Ant Evans (@AntEvansUFC) March 7, 2014
March 1st was the end of the trial period for the Fight Pass although people that had not signed up could have still checked out Saturday’s event with a 7 day trial.
The plan to unveil Fight Pass to a broader audience in time for Saturday’s event was good execution on the part of the UFC. It shows its plan to expose its product to the overseas audience and give fans all over the world the opportunity try the network with the hopes of eventually becoming subscribers. Notwithstanding the global launch, the initial subscriber numbers that are being passed around (nothing concrete to report yet) point to the fact that the Fight Pass is a success. This could vicariously mean that the WWE Network may be doing well too based on the early adopters to the Fight Pass. Then again, we may see consumers choosing between the two networks. Still, the global launch of its digital platform should mean more subscribers provided that it does not suffer from any technical issues.
March 8, 2014
MMA Junkie reports the attendance, gate and bonuses for UFC Fight Night 37 which occurred Saturday afternoon in London, England. Alexander Gustafsson scored two bonuses as he defeated Jimi Manuwa in the main event.
Dana White announced attendance of 14,604 and a gate of $2,000,056 which occurred at London’s O2 Arena. It placed fourth out of the 5 UFC events held at the venue (the other 4 were PPVs) in attendance and gate.
The fight bonuses were awarded to Alexander Gustafsson, Jimi Manuwa and Gunnar Nelson. Each received $50,000 each. Gustaffson and Manuwa earned FOTN and Nelson and Gus received Performance Bonuses.
It was the first major event on Fight Pass so there was a portion of UFC fans that did not witness the fights. The event featured Alexander Gustafsson which was somewhat controversial as he is next in line for a shot at the Light Heavyweight title. I say controversial since if the UFC is to promote top fighters it should make the fighters marketable and have them fight to the biggest available audience. With a paywall (despite the opportunity to sign up for a free week trial), some UFC fans probably didn’t see UFC Fight Night 37. Thus, most fans will only recall his loss to Jon Jones as his last fight and not his impressive victory Saturday.
Of course, the UFC has its reasons for putting Gus on Fight Pass. He’s a quality fighter and with Fight Pass now available internationally, it would attract more fans to give Fight Pass a try.
March 7, 2014
MMA Fighting reports that Dana White has unsurprisingly shot back at ESPN for its “Outside the Lines” piece on TRT. White denied claims that he “flip-flopped” on the TRT issue.
White accused ESPN of embellishing the story by Mike Fish and Josh Gross which highlighted mainly UFC fighters applying for exemptions to use testosterone. The multiple story expose from ESPN painted the UFC in a bad light particularly an inference that UFC physicians would diagnose fighters with low testosterone in order for them to receive an exemption from the state athletic commission. Particularly damaging was the comparison of athletes that requested exemptions in other sports versus the number that have made requests in MMA. Additionally, “Outside the Lines” obtained a letter from 2010 which diagnosed 24-year-old Todd Duffee with “extreme fatigue” and prescribing Testosterone Cypionate.
Via MMA Fighting:
“The whole ESPN, that thing was such a sham,” White said. “That story was such a sham, and of course, they ran the s–t out of it because it’s negative, half of it wasn’t true or was just embellished. It’s rampant throughout MMA. 500 guys in MMA and five guys can’t have exemptions now.”
Maybe its just OTL pieces that White does not like at ESPN as he was not a fan of its report on fighter pay either. Remember when Dana White took over the Sportscenter Instagram account for ESPN in promoting UFC 168? Well, his comments about the ESPN piece is the “hate” part of his “love/hate” relationship with the network. It was obvious that White was not going to like the ESPN investigative story as it paints the UFC in a bad light. The UFC declined to be interviewed for the story. Likely, it did not want to put itself in a corner and/or have to answer the tough questions about Belfort (the report occurred prior to Belfort’s withdrawal). Of course, accusing the journalists that they were making things up can be an issue especially to a journalist’s reputation. As for the investigative piece, it’s worth another read to see if you side with White.
March 7, 2014
The UFC has brokered a sponsorship deal with Swedish online gaming company Unibet. The 2 year agreement will start tomorrow at UFC Fight Night London and will make it the official betting partner of the UFC.
The deal will cover events held in the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Australia according to the Sports Business Daily (subscription required).
The UFC said that the quality of Unibet’s iGaming offering set it apart from other operators, and the strength of the desktop and mobile products provided an ideal synergy with the business.
“This is a great opportunity for our fans to step into the world of the UFC in a new and engaging way,” Garry Cook, executive vice president and managing director of UFC EMEA commented.
“We are delighted to partner with one if the world’s fastest growing online betting companies,” Cook continued. “The UFC is hosting more events than ever internationally in 2014 allowing us to reach more potential fans across the globe.
Unibet chief marketing officer Nils Anden indicated that Unibet was working on providing exclusive bet offers for UFC events.
Established in 1997, the company “provides a platform for sports betting, casino, games and online poker,” according to its web site. It touts that it has 8.6 million customers in over 100 countries and over 900 employees. It is a publicly listed company on the NASDAQ QMX Nordic Exchange in Stockholm.
Occurring on the eve of UFC Fight Night 37, this is good news for the UFC and Unibet. Certainly, the Fertittas and their UltimatePoker.com web site is heavily promoted on UFC shows in the U.S. and it made sense for the company to partner with a European online gaming site with its ongoing expansion into Europe. While I do not personally visit these sites, I understand that the opportunity for more oddsmakers and odds available is a good thing. It also caters to the UFC’s target demo. Look for the Unibet logo in the Octagon tomorrow.
March 6, 2014
MMA Junkie reports that the California State Athletic Commission has followed the Nevada State Athletic Commission in restricting the use of testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT). At this time, it has instituted a complete ban on TRT.
Andy Foster, the California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer issued the following statement on California’s banning TRT.
The California State Athletic Commission fully supports the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s decision to eliminate Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) for Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) in boxing and mixed martial arts. California is a strong supporter of anti-doping efforts. As part of California’s anti-doping efforts, the Commission recently began the rulemaking process to require meeting World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) standards as the only way to obtain a TUE for TRT. This standard is so high that it is an effective ban except under the most extreme circumstances. Until the rulemaking process is complete and the regulations are fully adopted, the Commission has a total ban on TRT. California remains committed to protecting the health and safety of athletes and having strict anti-doping standards is one of the ways this is accomplished.
The move by California to negate therapeutic-use exemptions (TUE) for TRT is a sign that the dominos may seemingly fall when it comes to the use of TRT. While TUEs for TRTs may still be obtained, the standards for receiving the exemption are so that most athletes currently using TRT would not meet WADA standards. Certainly, the ESPN “Outside the Lines” story on TRT helped sway public opinion of the use in MMA. We will see how many other commissions follow suit.
March 6, 2014
The UFC has announced that it will be promoting two fight cards on the same night on May 31st. Both cards will be overseas as one occurs in Brazil while the other will take place in Germany.
The card from Brazil will be the culmination of the third season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil as Wanderlei Silva will take on Chael Sonnen. The second card will take place in Berlin, Germany. No fights have been announced for that event. MMA Junkie suspects that the German card will be UFC Fight Night 41.
It’s not clear whether both cards will take place live on the UFC Fight Pass or whether one will air on FS1 and the other on Fight Pass.
The announcement that the UFC will be doing double duty on May 31st falls in line with its busy international schedule which includes 6 European UFC events in 2014. The UFC’s focus with these events is to the local regions and not the North American audience. So, while it may not have made sense to conduct two events on the same day in the past, it makes sense now if you consider the localizing of the events.
March 4, 2014
The Sports Business Journal (subscription required) reports that executives for Fox Sports are pleased with the upswing of Fox Sports 1. Although its miles away from competing with ESPN, trends seen by execs point to a promising future.
The article is premised upon the comparison that FS1 has done much better than its predecessor, the Speed Channel. Also, Fox execs are excited about the added distribution (FS1 is now in 87 million homes doubling the amount that had the Speed Channel) and a younger, richer demo which should attract more advertisers.
While the UFC has been a mainstay for FS1 ratings early on, NASCAR has picked up some of the slack recently and the article cites the influx of NASCAR events to help FS1 ratings. The NASCAR ratings likely benefit from the old Speed tie-in.
FS1 is averaging 292,000 viewers in prime time since August 2013 which is up “70 percent versus Speed from a corresponding time period a year earlier.” It also has a better 18-49 prime time demo and a more affluent audience overall.
According to the article, the network is still relying on the strength of the live events it has coming up including MLB, USGA events as well as Sprint Cup and Nationwide races. Of course, its College Football and College Basketball programming has seemingly underperformed.
SBJ lists the 10 most viewed programs on FS1. Notably, the top 3 relate to NASCAR as the Feb. 15th NASCAR Sprint Cup (3.526 million viewers) is the most viewed program since the network’s launch. The Feb. 20th NASCAR Sprint Cup event was second (3.1 million) and was followed by the Fox Sports Live which followed the event (2.272 million). Rounding out the top 5 was the Civil War (Oregon-OSU) on November 29th and Oklahoma-Baylor on November 7th. The August 17th UFC Fight Night was the highest rated UFC event at number 6.
Two other UFC events made the top 10 with the UFC 168 Prelims (1.554 million) at number 8 and the February 15th Fight Night (1.4 million) landed at number 10.
So how does this SBJ article reconcile FS1 executives providing the new network advertisers “make goods” during the World Series? Obviously, NASCAR has helped the ratings with the top 3 highest rated events occurring just last month. College Football and College Basketball have not really done well for the network. The realigned Big East Conference has not attracted a big audience since the big draws (e.g., Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse) are now in the ACC. The Pac 12 Conference is limited in audience as those on the west coast are interested in those teams. We will see if March Madness heats up for college basketball ratings for FS1.
The UFC is still a contributor to the network’s ratings and an attractive property as the network’s viewership falls within the UFC demo. We still see some concern about some of the network’s live programming which may include The Ultimate Fighter series. Notably, Fox is looking at TUF ratings differently after the Rousey-Tate season as it has taken the view of evaluating the performance of the season overall (i.e., DVR ratings, overall viewership including replays) rather than focus on an overnight rating. Overall, the article paints a “glass half-full” perspective on FS1. Certainly, competing with ESPN is not an overnight endeavor as FS1 has found out. Even with the number of homes it is in, its discovered that people will not magically gravitate to the channel. With more new live events coming to the network in the future, it will have to be a wait and see proposition as to its success.
March 1, 2014
TUF Nations Episode 7 which aired on Fox Sports 2 on Wednesday received an average of 161,000 viewers per Nielsen sources.
TUF Nations: Australia vs. Canada
Episode 1: 371,000 viewers
Episode 2: 253,000 viewers
Episode 3: 107,000 viewers
Episode 4: 384,000 viewers
Episode 5: 187,000 viewers
Episode 6: 78,000 viewers
Episode 7: 161,000 viewers
The ratings are an improvement from last week’s meager overnight ratings. With Episode 7, the TUF Nations overall ratings average is 220,143. As college basketball’s March Madness begins on FS1, we may see the continued downturn of ratings for TUF Nations.