UFC 100 Proves MMA Is a Force to Be Reckoned With

Steve ClemmonsContributor IJuly 13, 2009

LONDON - JANUARY 17:  (UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS OUT) (L-R) Brothers and co-owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship Frank (L) and Lorenzo Fertitta (2nd R), UFC president Dana White (2nd L) and photographer Kevin Lynch attend the 'Octagon' private view at Hamilton's gallery on January 17, 2007 in London, England.  The exhibition showcases work by Lynch documenting the world of Ultimate Fighter Championship (UFC) events.  (Photo by Claire Greenway/Getty Images)

Thanks Luda for the initial inspiration....

UFC 100: Where do we go from here?

If you are to believe Brock Lesnar in his post fight comments, he was going to drink some Coors Light and mount his wife (in a non submission way, I hope...). While some of his comments are TMI (too much information, even though his wife is the lovely Sable from WWE fame), Brock Lesnar stands as the face of UFC, especially after his devastating victory over Frank Mir (which I predicted here…).

The next step will be the fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar.  It can't happen now, since they belong to different organizations, but Fedor's contract is set to expire soon...

With the fight over and fans rushing to chat rooms to discuss the outcomes of their favorite fight, the question I posed before the fight is more relevant now: Is UFC going to crash the party of the big three sports of football, basketball, and baseball?

For some of you, you disagree with my thesis, which was really only a question.  But, in the interest of discourse, I am willing to defend my point of view.  Here is a comment that led to the genesis of this post.

Matt stated in the comments of this story…

You lost any and all credibility by arguing that hockey is not one of your "big four". In fact, when you went on to explain why you didn't choose golf or NASCAR, your credibility hit negative numbers.

People JUST started talking about how MMA has started to become the fighter's sport of choice. It is ridiculous to claim that MMA has a larger fan base, and larger general support, than hockey has.

So, in an open letter to Matt is where we begin the defense of UFC/MMA.


Why so mad?  I can only provide a perspective.  It's cool to disagree, but without numbers, I am powerless to question your statement.  The difference between us is that I am making an ARGUMENT, not just a statement.

Not to bore you with the clinical side of argumentation, but you need a claim (UFC is about to become one of the big four sports), data (see my many sources below), and a warrant (other sports are falling through the cracks).

I am going to work somewhat backwards from your post.  You felt that not putting NASCAR or Golf as the Big Four meant that I had negative credibility.  Well, I should put you in touch with some of my friends, since they could give you some good ammo.  But, without it, you make a statement that you don’t defend.  I am willing to prove your straw man argument true anyway.

Answer for NASCAR

The slide of NASCAR has been in the works for years.  According to Nate Ryan, in the USA Today, the popularity and numbers for NASCAR have been sinking.  Remember, this is in 2006.

NASCAR's popularity might have reached a plateau. As the Nextel Cup series nears the end of its first network TV contract, there are signs fan interest is lagging, and a 15-year period of growth is sputtering.

Tracks don't release figures, but estimates from NASCAR reports show crowds have decreased in a third of the races this season. Fewer than half the Cup races were sellouts, and that includes two at the 92,000-seat grandstand of California Speedway east of Los Angeles, NASCAR's largest market.

Autoracing Daily points to an even bigger decline in 2008, a decline of 21 percent.

Over the past two years, television ratings have declined by approximately 21 percent, and crowds at races have similarly dwindled. The decline has so far been more hindrance than harm.

They (being Auto Racing Daily) also point to another problem, the economy, that I hint is a factor. With American Auto Companies in dire straights, excess advertising dollars are not going to fund Cup Drivers anymore.  They need to spend their money on figuring out how not to allow foreign car companies to dominate the landscape.

Trouble is brewing on the nation’s economic setting, with major indicators on the wane and wide-spread expectations of a recession over the next six months.
No sport is more susceptible to the vagaries of the economy than NASCAR, where rising costs have crippled several teams hunting for crucial sponsorship leading into the season. NASCAR isn’t the bargain it once was for corporate America, and it’s not uncommon for many major teams to turn to a hodgepodge of different corporate entities adorning the paint schemes of cars where once the look of the cars was as familiar as Yankee pinstripes or Red Sox piping.

So,  simply put, the revenue dollars are drying up from the most important avenue, which is corporate dollars.  It is not just the Auto fans who are noticing.  Reuters notices and makes my argument for me.  High gas prices, means fans stop coming…

But its largely blue-collar fan base is feeling the pinch. While several tracks still sell out, others have seen crowds shrink.

VanDerSnick said the average percentage drop in ticket sales at ISC's tracks was in the mid-single digit range, and fan spending on merchandise and concessions has declined similarly.

ISC, which operates race tracks in several states including the home of the Daytona 500 in Florida, competes with Speedway Motorsports. The France family owns 67 percent of ISC's voting stock and also owns NASCAR.

Bad news for tracks is a June government report that showed Americans reduced the number of miles they drove for the sixth straight month in April, resulting in the biggest six-month decline since the oil shock of the 1979-80 Iranian revolution.

NASCAR's advantage is its ability to sell each race as a unique event that many fans even build vacations around.

Answer for Golf

The same argument is true for golf.  Tournaments depend on corporate dollars to hold the event, from the goodie bags that VIP’s get to the appearance fees tournaments pay the games biggest stars to show up and mingle.

The only thing that golf has to hold on to tight is Tiger Woods.  Without Tiger, or Tiger in contention, the ratings are horrible.  Some tournaments have gone under, especially if they are not on Tiger’s schedule.  Golf.com discusses the With/Without numbers, a.k.a. the “Tiger Effect.”

Though ratings for post-U.S. Open Tour events this summer have been uniformly dismal, the most instructive comparisons are in the numbers for the final rounds of the four events in which Tiger played in '07. The three domestic events were down precipitously , with the AT&T Classic off 42% and the WGC-Brigestone lower by 39%. (Like the PGA, both were telecast by CBS.) This falloff is reminiscent of the decline in NBA ratings when Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls after the 1998 playoffs. The British Open, on ABC, was down a more modest 11% from '07.

Domestic box office has taken a hit, too, no doubt affected not only by Tiger's absence but also by economic factors like the soaring price of gas. In July, the AT& T, Tiger's own tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., reported four-day attendance of 107,120, a drop of 32,269 from '07. For the WCC-Bridgestone at Akron's Firestone Country Club (which usually attracts 120,00 for four days) and the PGA at Oakland Hills, media reports indicated that crowds were smaller than in '07.

Answer for NHL Hockey

So, while that should answer why I shouldn’t be in the negative numbers, let’s look at why I am credible…

Starting with hockey, the sport is growing right now, which for the sake of keeping hockey as more than just an Olympic sport in the U.S. is a good thing.  But, its numbers are down as well.  USA TODAY has the commissioner speaking on the state of the game.

According to the Commissioner, hockey has grown 5.5 percent this year.

Based on figures he has received to date, Bettman said the league is experiencing "real growth," probably in the "5 to 5.5% range. But last year's growth was in the 12% range, and the NHLPA is talking about raising the amount of players' salaries put into escrow to 25% to ensure players won't have to pay out of pocket at the end of the season should the players' share of revenue exceed the 54% ceiling.

UFC Numbers

Now, this would seem to bode well for the NHL, as growth can always be spun positively.  But, this is not your father’s hockey.  This is a sport that went through a lockout and still has some teams in economic dire straights (Winnipeg/Phoenix/Seattle anyone??? Just kidding, but who knows?)

According to TVbythenumbers.com, the NHL finals had 4.5 million views on free TV. For the finals of anything, I would think that the number would be a lot bigger.

Here is what UFC 100 did...

Saturday’s card dramatically increased interest in mixed martial arts. White estimated that 30,000-50,000 fans attended the UFC Fan Expo the last two days at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. The card drew a sellout crowd of 11,000 which paid $5.1 million on Saturday. Pay-per-view sales are almost guaranteed to surpass 1 million and there is a chance that the final number would exceed 1.5 million, which would make it the biggest non-boxing PPV in history. Closed circuit sales were so strong in Las Vegas that Zuffa officials opened the MGM Grand Garden to accommodate the demand.

I wouldn’t pay fifty five dollars for the NHL finals, or really to see any hockey game live or on TV.  (That is just my own personal bias. Rabid fans will.) Some people would and that is their right to do so. (Remember fan is the short form of fanatical...) But, for UFC, I bet that the number will be north of the 1.5 million figure.  Added on to this embarrassment of riches, UFC happens every three weeks or so.  While the number will not always be this big, it is pulling the horseshoe out of hockey’s arse and is clearly beating the NHL over the head with it, to borrow from Lesnar.

This is only counting the residual value of the UFC alone, not all MMA, like Affliction, or WEC, which UFC now owns.  USA Today provides the figures.

Each of the Fertittas own 45 percent of Zuffa LLC, while White owns 10 percent. Before the recession hit, the company was estimated to be worth close to $1 billion.

Business advisory firm Applied Analysis recently did an economic impact study of the UFC on Las Vegas, which has been severely affected by the crumbling economy, and found it generated $86.2 million in nongaming revenue for six events held last year and early this year.

Anytime you can garner non gaming revenue like that, that means people come, and then spend money after your event.  Now, NASCAR has something (as well as the other aforementioned sports) that UFC doesn’t.  A big TV deal. 

Yes, UFC is killing it with SpikeTV and other smaller deals that MMA as a whole has, like HDNET fights, which I get with DirecTV.  But, it is about to break into the mainstream with ESPN.  Remember, it was just twelve short years ago McCain tried to get it banned.  Now, it is licensed in forty states.  MMALive shows that ESPN is getting serious about giving the fans what they want.

ESPN coverage

Getting the United States to accept the sport does more than just protect the safety of its fighters. As acceptance has grown of MMA and the UFC, their presence in mainstream media has grown with it.  The Las Vegas Sun points this out in an interview.

As longtime UFC commentator Mike Goldberg said during a Q&A session at UFC 100, it only takes one or two networks showing more MMA before everyone follows.

After years of downplayed coverage, ESPN has taken the initiative to produce MMA Live, featuring Florian as a frequent anchor.

 Future of MMA/UFC

As crazy as this sounds, the UFC/MMA can get bigger than my beloved football.  UFC was the leading PPV event in 2006.  It is about to explode internationally as well, which is going to make the numbers go boom! The Vegas Sun continues…

As far as pay-per-view buys go, the UFC overtook all other events as the leading seller in 2006. As the UFC finds its way into international markets—it's already set up deals in China and Mexico—the expectation for each fight will continue to grow.

“Right now we’re the largest pay-per-view provider in the world,” White said. “Most of our fights do anywhere from 600,000 buys to over 1 million. Once we go global and have this platform and distribution, what’s the number we’re doing then? Is it 4 million, 8 million, 10 million? I don’t know, but it’s the fun part of growing this business and ultimately growing this sport.”

It’s for this reason those who scoffed when White said the UFC will someday rival the size of the NFL might become believers. Worldwide markets have already shown more of an interest in White’s brand than in the NFL.

At UFC 99, the first UFC event in Germany, longtime voice of the Octagon Bruce Buffer couldn’t believe that when he announced his catchphrase of, “It’s time,” the entire German audience not only knew it was coming but yelled it in unison with him.

“Concentrating on worldwide awareness and the marketability of the UFC is opening up opportunities in other countries,” Buffer said. “I can’t even walk around in the United Kingdom anymore without being recognized. It took one show in Germany to make them appreciate the athleticism of this event. What you saw in Germany, you’re going to see in other countries as we continue to move forward.”

And when it comes down to it, that’s where the future of the UFC lies.  When you have the international connection, it is what all sports are reaching for.  Imagine if UFC catches on like football (soccer for the people unwilling to call it what it is…although I usually mean American football. lol…) in Europe?  The Sun points out the possibilities:

“I think by UFC 200, we could certainly be the biggest sport in the world,” Lorenzo Fertitta said. “Who knows where it could be? We’re currently broadcast to over 400 million homes around the world. UFC 100 went live to 50 countries around the globe and another 20 or 30 took it on a delayed basis due to time change.

“As this sport continues to grow, you’re going to see us doing events all over the world in a big way. The whole goal is to build a global brand for fighting: the UFC.”

Matt, that is why the title is phrased in the form of a question, but the numbers will be the determination of the answer.  As it is looking now, get ready to carve the face of Dana White in Sports Mount Rushmore.




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