The Super Bowl being in the rear view mirror means that once the haze of Budweiser commercials, Lady Gaga performance evaluations, and criticisms of Bill Belichick’s sportsmanship clears up, the American sports fan is suddenly free to explore their other sports options. Perhaps there is even more time to devote to their cable television viewing of weekly UFC programming.
Without the NFL taking up roughly ten hours of television time on a typical Sunday, the UFC has an opening from mid-February through August to exploit a day that the promotion generally utilizes only a few times a year. The UFC obviously has reasons for their commitment to Saturday programming. Some of it may be out of their hands. In fact, when the rare event is held on an unusual day, the fear is that the general UFC audience will not be able to adjust to the schedule change.
With that said, the UFC is in a new era where conventional promotional wisdom is as mere guide, not strict doctrine. This new cosmetic era of the UFC requires a different level of visibility and creativity that goes against accepted conventions. To further fan the flames of creativity MMAFighting.com recently reported that, despite rumors the contrary, WME-IMG plans to run as many UFC events in 2017 as they did in 2016 and 2015.
To be clear, these suggestions to feature UFC events on a Sunday do not apply to UFC pay-per-view extravaganzas. The Saturday night pay-per-view slot works in concert with the remaining countercultural aspects of the UFC. However, mainstream appeal will always trump rebellious desires. Cable and network television is still a great vehicle to attract the highly-valued causal audience. Here are some reasons why more Sunday UFC programming could be beneficial to the promotion:
•Everybody else is doing it!
While the NFL has branded Sunday as the official day of football observance, other mainstream American sports utilize Sunday as a day to feature their product to the masses.
During the NFL offseason, the NBA presents showcase games on ABC, The NHL has their Game of the Week on NBC, Major League Baseball has a weekly game on both TBS and ESPN, and NASCAR regularly holds their major races on Sunday afternoons. The networks and leagues alike recognize the value of Sunday programming. Instead of competing with the weekend, Sunday UFC cards can become part of the more family orientated Sunday sports programming. It might be a departure from a sleepy PGA Sunday, but grandpa just might have a soft spot for guillotine chokes.
•Cards do not have to finish after midnight.
Do a quick scroll through Twitter during a UFC Fight Night card and you will surely find an East Coast based MMA pundit complaining about the length of the card and the show ending on Sunday morning. The UFC should be commended for catering to its West Coast audience. Few other leagues seem to realize that life exists west of the Mississippi. But it does perhaps alienate some of the UFC’s larger markets.
Live programming on a Sunday has flexibility that other days of the week cannot reproduce. In its current form on Saturday night a UFC Fight Night is something that has to be somewhat sought out by its audience due to its timeslot. In fact, putting more events on a Sunday may actually be a welcome change to the UFC faithful. Theoretically MMA fans do have social lives that might require them to spend a Saturday night somewhere other than in front of a television screen.
•Another method of differentiation.
To their credit, the UFC has done an excellent job of presenting their “big” Fox cards as existing in almost an alternate universe than that of the regular UFC Fight Night cards. The Fox cards have a unique identity to them, even if they are occasionally of little consequence. Semi-regular Sunday UFC events can also assume their own identity.
When the above-mentioned mainstream sports feature events on a Sunday, they meticulously attempt to showcase marquee teams in such a high profile spot. Currently the status symbol of a UFC fighter is indicated by their placement on the various UFC platforms. Being featured on a “UFC Sunday” card could be an additional indication of the fighter’s lot in the promotion. The UFC’s promotional machine could easily make MMA on a Sunday feel as important as “60 Minutes.”
A tall task ahead for Holm and De Randamie
On February 11, the UFC will make their return to pay-per-view with UFC 208, where the inaugural UFC Women’s Featherweight Championship will be contested between Holly Holm and Germaine de Random. For many reasons, Holm and De Randamie are under enormous pressure to perform both financially and in the Octagon.
The creation of this title and subsequent division has been the subject of ridicule among MMA pundits. A lackluster fight will only increase the stigma that the new division already harbors. Furthermore, the buyrate of this pay-per-view will serve as an early litmus test for women’s MMA sans Ronda Rousey.
This will be the first non-Rousey pay-per-view featuring women in the main event while also having the benefit of full-scale UFC promotion. (UFC 200 was main evented by Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate, but was only promoted as such days before due to a UDADA violation by Jon Jones.) De Randamie is a relative unknown, (although very accomplished in her own right) while Holm is a known commodity but essentially untested as a pay-per-view draw.
Holm has been part of two pay-per-views that did over 1,000,000 buys, but on one of those (UFC 193) she was opposite Rousey, and her lone fight as champion (UFC 196) was on the undercard of a Conor McGregor fight. Holm’s bout against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC on Fox in July of 2016 did spectacular ratings but a carryover is not a given.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: MEDIA & BUSINESS: UFC lacks active big draws right now sans McGregor and Rousey, but they’ve faced this before and produced new stars