UFC and Sportsnet Continue to Cement a Strong MMA Foundation in Canada

Dwight WakabayashiCorrespondent IINovember 23, 2012

Photo Courtesy / Canada.com
Photo Courtesy / Canada.com

The Ultimate Fighting Championship released yesterday that the UFC 154 Preliminary card pulled in the most viewers ever for a prelim card televised on Sportsnet. The action was available on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in English and French Canada and, bolstered by the return of Georges St-Pierre, posted a cumulative reach of more than 1.5 million viewers tuning in to watch all or part of the broadcast.

*In English Canada, the UFC 154 preliminary card was the most-watched UFC prelim ever on Sportsnet, attracting an average audience of 319,000 (two-plus). In French Canada, TVA Sports had an average audience of 177,000 (two-plus).

*Overall, the UFC 154 prelims was the No. 1 sports show of the evening in both English and French Canada on Nov. 17 with an average of 496,000 Canadians watching the entire two-hour preliminary broadcast on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

These numbers seem to support Dana White and many others who say that Canada is becoming the Mecca of MMA.

On the surface, the much-anticipated return of GSP can be attributed to the successful numbers, however, a deeper look will show a lot of strategic spade work being done by the UFC and their partners at Rogers Sportsnet.

Director of Canadian operations Tom Wright was hired in May 2010 to run and steer the UFC ship on this side of the border, and his relentless work is cementing a solid foundation for mixed martial arts in this country.

In an excellent article by John Morgan of MMAJunkie.com, Wright spoke about his strategic approach in Canada.

"I think there are three things," Wright explained. "First and foremost, we need to develop our fighter base. Canadians are no different than Americans or Brazilians; they love to cheer for their own. We did consumer research, and far and away, that's one of the major drivers toward watching on television, buying pay-per-views or going to events: to be able to cheer for your own homegrown talent."

"So that's No. 1, and that speaks to the goal of 'TUF.' No. 2 is an educational thing, and that really is about taking our sport to more and more parts of the country. Then, the third is tied to education and that's in trying to clear up the uncertainty as it relates to the regulatory environment."

Wright, the former commissioner of The Canadian Football League, has called on various Canadian UFC fighters such as Mark Hominick and Rory MacDonald to help him lobby and educate the government on the merits and integrity of mixed martial arts legislation in Canada.

Along with Wright's intelligent strategic approach, the UFC has great media exposure north of the border thanks to it's broadcasting partner, Rogers Sportsnet. Sportsnet has a comprehensive and passionate team of highly knowledgeable MMA analysts, led by pioneer analyst Joe Ferraro and his UFC Central team, as well as Managing Digital Editor James Brydon.

Ferraro and UFC Central ran a two-hour special on GSP's return to the cage in the week leading up to UFC 154, and the ratings for the feature were very successful. Sportsnet is the most recognized sports broadcasting brand in Canada, and its commitment and dedication to UFC content on television, radio and in digital media is largely contributing to a growing audience.

Wright announced that things are only going to pick up in the next couple of years.

"This year we'll have three: Toronto, Calgary and Montreal. Next year we'll have four, and in 2014 and 2015 we'll probably have five events."

It takes a lot of commitment and hard work to build a Mecca.

*Source: BBM Canada (preliminary data); all audiences are two-plus.