5 Things the UFC Can Do to Get Its Groove Back
Depending on who you ask, the UFC isn't exactly knocking it out of the park these days. Wednesday night's show in Atlantic City, a parade of violent stoppages and explosive wars, was largely the exception that proves the rule in terms of the modern UFC.
That rule? There's no such thing as too much, and too much is exactly what's going to make the UFC a dominant force on the sporting landscape.
Dana White will argue that the promotion is a global sports superpower and diminishing pay-per-view buys coupled with an increasingly vocal (and growing) group of detractors is nothing to worry about, but it's hard to ignore the trends.
It just ain't 2009 anymore. The UFC has, in many ways, gotten out of its groove.
Here are some suggestions on how to get it back.
Acknowledge That It Isn't All Rosy
Look, we get it.
Business is booming. It's never been better.
The UFC is an unstoppable freight train of sporting joy for everyone in the world, and we're all going to unify to name White as the first President of the World soon.
Except it's not, it's not and we're not. Anyone with two eyes and an internet connection can see that numbers are trending down in most relevant ways, capped off by the recent UFC 174 buyrate debacle.
But you know what? It's okay. Most people who care are just fans, they don't have any stake in the UFC beyond watching the product.
So, instead of belittling reporters who bring it up or attacking people on Twitter, why not acknowledge that the promotion is traveling some rocky ground these days? Something as simple as: "Yeah the buyrates haven't been great, but that's the cost of building new stars for us."
Taking over the world isn't easy, even if you're only trying to do it at the sporting level. Admitting as much isn't going to turn people away; it might actually do the opposite.
Make the Game Plan Clearer
Directly related to that idea is the idea that it wouldn't kill the UFC to make the game plan clearer to fans. They don't need to disclose every dollar coming in and out of the company or put their growth plan on the homepage of their website, but a little transparency might garner some positive attention.
Instead of saying "we're going everywhere!" and leaving it at that, why not develop some actual facts about "going everywhere" that are palatable to the average fan? Some sort of statistics or data that allow a fan to understand the inspiration for such a bold play would work wonders.
"Everywhere" is a synonym for "not exactly here" and for the average fan who is exactly here, all he's seeing is mediocre fights between guys he doesn't care about that he may or may not have paid $60 to see.
If the UFC would open the door a crack for fans to better understand why their North American product is suffering—actually understand it as opposed to speculating on the internet—it might satisfy some of the naysayers.
Have Less Pay-Per-Views
Fact: If you're going to do 50-something cards a year, it's going to be very hard to make 14 of those worth putting behind a paywall.
A year ago that would have been conjecture, fodder for people to accuse as baseless. After 2014, only half of 2014 actually, it's a concrete, proven fact. With the aforementioned UFC 174, the cancellation of UFC 176 and only two champions above 135 pounds available to fight, the dearth of saleable talent is obvious.
Now if you're not selling that talent, instead putting it on FOX or FOX Sports 1, it's easier to access for fans and the cards have a significant chance of being better all around (look at the cards in the vicinity of 176 for proof of that).
It's going to be far easier for people to part with that hard-earned green if they're getting their money's worth every time out—like they were during the company's boom period. Asking for it fewer times a year might allow that decision to be a little easier for them in the modern era.
Go Big or Go Home with Fight Pass
Fight Pass is fine. Whatever. You want to sell your library for $10 a month? Great, it's your library. Sell it for a million dollars a month if you think you can.
Don't, however, act like it's the greatest thing to ever happen to streaming television because it allows one to watch Nate Marquardt and James Te Huna live at sunrise.
That's truly not that appealing.
And certainly don't act like someone who feels that way couldn't possibly be a true fan of MMA, because that's not helping anyone either.
What the promotion needs to do with Fight Pass is go all-in. Make it something that can't be missed, something that a fan would put ahead of $10 worth of groceries for how great it is.
If you're insisting on over a dozen pay-per-views on the calendar, include them in a Fight Pass subscription. The addition of Invicta is an excellent touch, as would be the speculated-upon addition of Metamoris or even some NCAA wrestling. That sort of thing adds true value, not making people get up at the crack of dawn to see nobodies on the other side of the globe.
Fight Pass is a skeleton right now, even if it's one with some promise. The UFC needs to put some serious meat on those bones, even if it means cannibalizing pay-per-view sales that come from television providers or paying out a little to secure more live events going forward.
Sell Stars Again
You know what? People like stars.
They like stars in movies, music and television, and sports are no different.
And people like real, actual stars. Stars that perform on the field of play and everyone knows it, not the boss' favorite or the boss himself.
It's time that the UFC got Jon Jones out there more, because he's the only proper star they have with mainstream appeal. Chris Weidman might get there one day too with a little more media training and a few more wins. Ditto for Cain Velasquez, who's been the baddest man on the planet now since he was hunting down Brock Lesnar.
The fact is that the UFC is a star-driven entity, whether they like it or not. People don't relate to those three letters, even if they do recognize them. They relate with the love and excitement they feel when a fighter does something amazing, or the frustration and hatred they feel when a guy they don't like does the same thing.
Three letters can't give you that.
It's time the promotion accepts that and starts grooming names to replace the Liddells, Coutures, Griffins and Ortizes. Stop trying to act like the promotion is the star, because it isn't.
If they can't accept that soon, we'll be having this same conversation for years and years to come.
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