Something has to be done.
The first UFC on FOX event was set off with a huge main event of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos for the UFC Heavyweight Championship and became the most watched MMA event in U.S. history with 5.7 million average viewers.
Fast forward to January, with the main event of Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis, and ratings take a slight dip, bringing in 4.7 million average viewers with a main event that doesn’t necessarily grab the attention of the casual fan.
Then there was the big fall.
UFC on FOX 3 with the main event of Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller tanked in viewership, only doing 2.42 million average viewers, half of what UFC on FOX 2 did just a couple of months earlier.
What’s interesting about it is that viewership is exactly opposite of the quality of the main event. Hands down, Diaz vs. Miller was the best main event out of the three, followed by Evans dominating Phil Davis for five rounds.
The Heavyweight Championship bout was over before it ever got started, mostly due to the massive hype that the match received, and the 64-second knockout that left the casual fan wondering just what MMA truly was all about.
So how do you fix viewership issues? Put the big names on free TV.
Zuffa is hoping that just seeing the UFC logo will draw. It won’t. There are fans like me who’ll watch every UFC event regardless of who’s fighting just because they’re fight fans. Then there are the channel flippers and the occasional viewers who want to see the big names fight. They vastly outweigh the hardcore fans.
With that being said, UFC on FOX started out perfectly with a one-fight card with the UFC Heavyweight Championship on the line. What more could you ask for? A Heavyweight Championship on free TV? It’s unheard of.
Then they failed to capitalize. The main objective for the UFC should have been to put on some of the best fights on free TV for at least three or four events to make UFC on FOX a must-see event. By doing that, they not only would have grown their fanbase among casual fans, but they would also potentially see a spike in pay-per-view buys.
There are actually fewer FOX events than PPV events, so it should be treated like a must-see event with some of the biggest names out there.
To show how names truly drive views, look no further than Kimbo Slice vs. Josh Thompson in the now-defunct EliteXC promotion. Once the most watched MMA event on network TV, CBS drew 4.9 million viewers that wanted to see Kimbo fight. Fighters sell fights.
Now, I’m not saying that UFC on FOX should be the home of the Heavyweight Championship fights, but they should do more in putting the big names on display.
Believe it or not, MMA still has not surpassed boxing in the mainstream. The most talked-about fighters in the world are still Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Not Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
UFC has the biggest platform in all of combat sports to put mixed martial arts on the map. But to do so, you have to put the big fights in front of a free TV audience. The more big fights on free TV, the more eyeballs on the product and the more potential it is to launch MMA into mainstream.
Diaz vs. Miller and the 2.4 million viewers was not a blip. If Zuffa continues to put on fights that wouldn’t headline pay-per-views, this will become a trend.
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