UFC: What Is the Ideal Number of Events for the Promotion?

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2012

August 4, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; President of UFC Dana White speaks after the Shogun versus Vera fight at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

It’s no secret that many UFC fans are straying.

There are a number of reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that the promotion is inundating the market with quantity over quality, in hopes of filling the ludicrous number of cards demanded of them between pay-per-view and the still-fresh FOX partnership.

Many fans love the idea of more cards. Bully for them.

The fact is that more cards, given the limited number of fighters on the roster – much less fighters that people will actually go out of their way to watch, or pay to watch, for that matter – is not the ideal. Not yet.

So what is? What is the right number of cards for the UFC to put off in a calendar year?

Taking a look at the calendar in 2012, the UFC will have gone to pay-per-view 13 times (minus UFC 151, which would have made it 14). The main FOX network will have had four shows, FX had seven between “UFC on FX” and TUF finales, and FUEL TV had six shows (these numbers all exclude prelim specials, just for sake of ease).

That’s 31 shows. As people say on that stupid game on the new Price is Right starring the insufferable Drew Carey: “that’s too much!”

There simply isn’t enough talent, even with everyone fighting as much as they physically can and never getting injured, to make that schedule viable.

When you factor in that everyone doesn’t fight as much as they can, and guys do get injured, you end up being expected to pay $55 for Jay Hieron in a co-main event.

For this new era of the UFC to work and for the sport to grow at a reasonable pace, there needs to be some reining in of things.

A monthly pay-per-view is, at most, what the promotion should be offering. It wasn’t long ago that the idea of trying to sell Wanderlei Silva vs. Rich Franklin II for $55 would have been laughable. The first time they fought, when they were both younger and better, it was free. This year, the UFC tried to sell it and it didn’t have another worthwhile fight on the card.

They had to outright cancel an event when injury and matchup refusals stymied UFC 151, something they’d never done in the history of Zuffa. And that’s to say nothing of the semi-cancelled UFC 145, which was to take place in Montreal in March but was moved to Atlanta for a few different reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the promotion outright couldn’t produce a main event for the card.

Dana White and company postured it as a move and promised a card in Montreal by year’s end, but for those who already had flights and/or hotels booked, it was a cancellation in the same vein as 151 a few months later.

They should take that as a sign that they need to slow the pace. If you can’t even build cards to sell, or can only build cards to sell knowing that no one is going to buy them, you’re overreaching.

FOX shows are at the perfect number, one per quarter. The only issue is the quality of the matchups, and the lazy attempts to make pointless matchups meaningful by declaring them to be title eliminators.

Either give fans big fights, or market the fights you’re giving them for what they are. Doing things like claiming Brandon Vera is a real-life Rocky only a win away from a title shot when he was a hot Thiago Silva urine sample away from unemployment a year ago is lunacy, and it offends the fans who know better.

To their credit though, the UFC seems to have righted the ship with UFC on FOX 5, which stands to be an epic showcase of what makes the sport so great.

FX is also in a reasonable range for total events, as doing four shows plus the two TUF finales would be perfect. The issue in 2012 came from pacing, as there would be no event on FX for months, then multiple events within a few weeks of one another. Space them out, pad the TUF finales a little more instead of trying to make extra cards where there aren’t any, and things would be much smoother.

FUEL TV is an interesting piece of the puzzle, as some of the most entertaining shows have taken place there even if most people aren’t watching them. Six shows is about right for them, provided they can be filled with up-and-coming talent and a main event that could establish future contenders.

What the promotion has done by headlining the likes of Alex Gustafsson, Chan Sung Jung, and Stefan Struve there is perfect, and shows that they’re starting to lock in what they have on that particular network.

Realistically, as impatient and frustrated as many fans have become, finding the right pitch for events can’t be easy for the UFC. They’ve never had such a broad footprint, and they’re struggling to find the right fit.

Trimming a little fat here and there, probably down from 31 events to 27 or 28, would make a massive difference.

Just look at how the loss of UFC 151 reverberated throughout the fall schedule – a vanilla UFC 152 got better, UFC on FX 5 got better, and other guys are still unbooked and now available to take short notice fights if they’re needed. Three or four less events would probably make 2013 look a lot more like 2008-2011, when the UFC was doing Saturday night entertainment better than anyone since Lorne Michaels.

The UFC has shown many things in its existence, not the least of which is resilience. It’s a sound company run by smart people, and it will rebound from a forgettable 2012. If fans can sit around and proselytize on the state of the union and the future of the sport in this new era, rest assured the guys in the front office are doing it too.

Less is more, folks. That won’t be the case forever, but it’s the reality we live in today.


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