UFC on Fox: How to Fix the Network Television Ratings Dilemma
It started with such promise—a heavyweight title fight on live network television. The response was even better than expected. More than eight million people watched the bout between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. One shot to Velasquez's chin, and a star was born.
Although ratings dipped somewhat for the second show in Chicago, it still delivered in a big way. Behind Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen, two of the sport's most interesting and polarizing fighters, the promotion managed to attract 4.7 million fans.
Last weekend, however, the ship hit the iceberg. Just 2.4 million fans tuned in to watch Nate Diaz and Jim Miller headline a fun night of fights. That's barely more than the UFC drew for live events on Spike television, despite being available, for free, to almost anyone with a television.
But the UFC isn't sunk—yet. Despite, falling to sixth place in its time slot, hope remains that MMA is still a mainstream sport. This is fixable. Here's how.
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The first Fox show boasted a heavyweight title fight. The second had two legitimate pay-per-view draws and a strong supporting cast that included Michael Bisping and rising prospect Phil Davis. It's no coincidence that those cards drew in big audiences, while a card with the virtually unknown Jim Miller in the main event didn't make it in the Darwinian world of network television.
Stars sell fights. Period.
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Keep Booking Exciting Fights
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UFC on Fox 3 was a huge hit, at least to those who tuned in. There were star turns from Alan Belcher, Nate Diaz and Lavar Johnson. In front of a larger audience, the three would have cemented themselves as players in the world of pay-per-view.
The UFC needs those supporting acts to keep their shows strong. A big win on Fox won't necessarily make someone a star overnight, but it will make him a recognizable face and a strong commodity when selling the overall depth and quality of a pay-per-view card.
Make Better Use of Stars on the Down Slide
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Fox is a great platform to introduce Nate Diaz to the world. To grab the audience though, why not use a marketable former champion? I think guys like Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin work well as television ambassadors. Use them wisely.
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It took Zuffa more than 10 years to get onto network television. Success won't be an overnight endeavor. The show did well with 18-34 males, an important advertising demographic. Now the UFC needs to grab the parents too.
Without football, a perfect place to advertise a violent sporting event like the UFC, Fox seemed lost about where to promote the bouts. Maybe it's time to think about testing the waters in mainstream fare like American Idol. Would a series of ads help attract a new audience to big-time fights? Maybe it's time to find out.