It looks like the UFC’s move to their new home at Fox Sports 1 is going to have its fair share of growing pains. After UFC Fight Night 26 debuted in Boston to rousing success with 1,782,000 viewers, UFC Fight Night 27 followed with a drop in viewership when 824,000 people tuned in to see Carlos Condit knock Martin Kampmann out in Indianapolis.
After that, unfortunately, things got even rockier. According to MMA Fighting, this Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 28 from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, turned in a viewership of only 809,000 fans. The season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter 18, featuring the heated rivalry between Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, was watched by an alarmingly low number of 762,000 viewers, making it the lowest-viewed TUF debut in the series’ lengthy history.
The season that had previously held the dubious distinction of having the lowest-rated premiere was TUF 16, featuring Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin, which had 947,000 people check out the season kick-off. These low numbers could mean a couple of things for the UFC, and may or may not be cause for concern.
First, the oft-discussed debate of if the UFC is putting on too many events inevitably comes into play here. Since the ratings have dropped with each passing UFC on Fox Sports 1 card, it’s easy to say that they are. At the core of the issue, having three fight cards in the span of one week is going to be wholly exhausting for all but the most devout of MMA fans. It’s hard to keep track of all that for casual fans, and with so much UFC programming being shoved down their throats in a short amount of time, I’m not sure if this strategy is a sustainable one.
There’s no doubt that the fighters present on the UFN cards are talented and deserve their shot. But when the main card features a fight like Francisco Trinaldo facing an Octagon-debuting Piotr Hallmann (who I think will be a very promising UFC Lightweight), non-dedicated fans may be lost in the mix. It turned out to be a great fight but maybe putting them on the preliminary card of a PPV event would have been a better idea.
I think the Fox Sports 1 shows were entertaining and solid cards. But the casual fan is obviously beginning to think that the market is becoming saturated, and the low numbers back that up. I know that the UFC is attempting to kick off their new channel with a bang, but it’s rarely right to have too much of a good thing.
Part of it is the switch to a new channel, which isn’t available to as many subscribers as Fox or even FUEL TV. It’s going to take time to develop a following for the new network, and patience will be a virtue when it comes to that.
In terms of TUF, however, the numbers are quite morbid. The Rousey-Tate rivalry was intended to inject a much-need shot of life into the arm of the ailing series, but it appears to have done the opposite. Even with the hype of the first female coaches, the show failed to eclipse even the lowest-rated season of TUF. That’s not a good sign, and it should be cause for the UFC to tail back on their programming push.
They most likely won’t, but consider this: Is it really the best time to debut a new season of TUF after fight fans have already been potentially watching five hours of bouts from Brazil? Again, only the most hardcore fans would endure.
TUF may just be failing as whole. The ratings continue to decline while the contract is shrinking in meaning, as most fighters who are on the show get another chance to prove themselves in the Octagon even if they lost on TV. Maybe fighting-based reality shows are just going by the wayside, that is entirely possible. It’s going to take some time for viewers to get acclimated to tuning into Fox Sports 1, and that’s to be expected. But is cramming in as much UFC content as possible the right way to get new fans and keep the many that you already have? Debatable.
I’d have to say no, that the promotion should focus on putting together more stacked cards that truly bring in the ratings rather than having a more watered-down schedule with a ton of events. I love most of the cards, but when you have a good amount of fights that are basically unknown to even an average UFC fan, then your content is getting water down. I know it will take time and patience for FS1 to come into it’s own, but we’ve had this debate before. I believe it was around the summer of 2012, when the Gray Maynard vs. Clay Guida snoozefest actually headlined a card on FX.
We may be back at that point somewhat, but I think that recent UFC on FS1 events have delivered great bouts, especially main events. The sheer volume may just be too much for casual MMA supporters, and TUF may have jumped the shark in its own right. What is your take on this ratings decline?