News came out today that the UFC's August 1 event, UFC on Versus 2, has been moved from Salt Lake City to San Diego due to sluggish ticket sales.
That the UFC even tried to pull off the event in Salt Lake City at all was a big mistake, and so I'm not at all surprised by the move. That said, the overall message that should be taken out of this has already been missed by many who have commented thus far.
What Caused The Blunder?
The cause of the blunder is fairly obvious: underestimating the LDS factor.
According to Dana White, television ratings for the UFC have been very strong in Utah and Salt Lake City, so they expected to do well in ticket sales.
What the UFC didn't take into account was that roughly 50% of the people in Salt Lake City, and 60% of the people in Utah are members of the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as LDS, or the Mormon church.
Normally there might not be anything expressly forbidding LDS members from attending UFC events, but unlike UFC PPV events, the UFC on Versus series takes place on Sunday.
Unlike in many other Christian denominations, Sundays are days meant to be used for religious purposes for LDS members. On Sundays, most LDS members don't work, and many LDS members won't do so much as visit a store on Sunday, while doing something like visiting a restaurant would be nearly unthinkable on a Sunday for many.
It's hard to imagine that many LDS members would have purchased tickets for a sporting event taking place on a Sunday.
It seems like the UFC thought Mormons would simply set aside their religious beliefs for one evening, and to their great surprise. That just didn't happen.
The solution to this problem is quite simple: If you're going to do a UFC event in Utah, don't do it on a Sunday.
How The Issue Has Been Overstated
Today I read an article on MMAfighting.com by Michael David Smith, where he basically says that the sluggish ticket sales in Utah show that the growth of the UFC is waning.
This conclusion is completely ridiculous.
As already stated, it was foolish of the UFC to plan a UFC event for a Sunday, but to add on to that, the sales of the UFC event in Salt Lake City were also probably affected by the event's fight card.
UFC on Versus 2 is headlined by a fight between Jon Jones and Vladimir Matyushenko, and the co-main event is a fight between Yushin Okami and Mark Munoz.
Jon Jones may be a rising star, but he's still relatively unknown, and more than that, most people expect him to beat Matyushenko fairly handily. Given that Jones is stil not really that well-known and that it's supposed to be more of a development bout for Jones, it's no surprise that some casual fans aren't too pumped to see the fight.
The co-main event is expected to be a more competitive bout, but even though Okami and Munoz are elite fighters, few people aside from hardcore fans have seen Okami fight recently. He's also the man who formerly held the title of being the only UFC top contender to get stuck on the prelims for every fight.
He's fought each of his previous three fights on UFC preliminary cards, so it's no surprise that casual fans don't understand why they're suppose to be paying to see him.
Overall, the event actually looks like it will be a very good one. I'm excited to see how Jones has continued to develop and am interested in seeing how the fight between Okami and Munoz plays out. Add in an interesting match between Takanori Gomi and Joe Stephenson, and the only thing that separates it from a PPV-worthy card is a main event of established stars.
That said, I can see the different reasons why casual fans in Utah weren't as enthused.
More than that, Michael David Smith doesn't do a very good job of establishing a downward trend, focusing only on a single instance to argue his point.
After the fastest sellout in UFC history at UFC 115 (some credit goes to the ticket scalpers), and a PPV monster at UFC 114, concluding that UFC growth is slowing simply based on poor ticket sales for a Sunday event in Utah is just a bit erroneous.