UFC Learns the Hard Way That Title Fights = PPV Buys

Dana White

Though all of the big-money fights scheduled for the spring/summer promise to turn their fortunes around, Zuffa has taken some serious hits lately. First we heard that WEC 47 pulled in a dismal 373,000 viewers, which was their second-smallest audience in two years — not exactly the level of heat you want going into your first pay-per-view card. Now, we hear that UFC 110 is trending at an estimated 215,000-240,000 pay-per-view buys, which follows very disappointing performances by UFC 108 and UFC 109. Sure, we all knew the UFC’s fall/winter injury curse would have fans playing pick-and-choose, but the numbers are straight-up grim. Via BloodyElbow, here’s how the UFC’s pay-per-view cards have performed starting with the high-water mark of UFC 100 last July:

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In 2009 the UFC averaged 620,000 buys per ppv event. If we look at the percentage each event was above or below that average we can definitely see a downward trend from 100.
UFC 100 1,600,000 + 245%

UFC 101 850,000 + 29%
UFC 102 435,000 -30%

UFC 103 375,000 -40%
UFC 104 500,000 -20%

UFC 106 375,000 -40%
UFC 107 620,000 +/- 0

UFC 108 300,000 -51%
UFC 109 275,000 -55%

UFC 110 240,000 -62%
Average with title on line 820,000

Average with non-title main event 370,000

It’s common sense, but we finally have the numbers to support it — fans show up when the fights matter. UFC 107‘s relatively strong showing, an oasis in a desert of limp-wristed buyrates, could be attributed to the BJ Penn/Diego Sanchez lightweight title fight that headlined the card. #107 was preceded by UFC 106, with its main event of Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin  — two guys who are supposed to be draws themselves — and fans responded with a collective “meh.” That’s what happens when you put on more frequent cards with fewer available stars (due to injuries) in a down economy.

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To me, it also suggests that the UFC’s “legendary” stars like Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Rich Franklin, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira — who the UFC has leaned on for main events during this slump — are becoming irrelevant to younger fans, who care a lot more about BJ Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, and Brock Lesnar. The UFC’s next two events should rescue them from this skid, at least temporarily. But they should curb their expectations the next time they headline a card with a non-title-fight between two old guys.