MEDIA & BUSINESS: An argument for variable pay-per-view pricing


In less than a month, the combat sports world has seen both sides of the pay-per-view spectrum. On August 26, Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor cashed in on ridiculous hype. While on September 9, UFC 215 came and went without a whimper. Strangely these two very different events cost the consumer north of $50. Mayweather-McGregor cost a hefty $100; while the less spectacular UFC 215 set you back $60. Despite the extraordinary Mayweather-McGregor price point, it is hard to argue that UFC 215 carried comparable value. The truth is not all pay-per-view cards are equally enticing, and perhaps it is time that the UFC starts adjusting their pricing accordingly.

Obviously it is counterproductive for a massive company to lower prices on any product, but a variable pricing model would allow the UFC to charge more when they present a transcendent fight card. The UFC could look to other combat sports entities for reference. Boxing is the most obvious example, especially when you consider the UFC co-promoted a fight with a $100 price tag. In his previous fight opposite Andre Berto, Mayweather charged around $75, while his mega-bout with Manny Pacquiao cost $100. Sure, the Berto fight was a pay-per-view disappointment, but it did show a level of self-awareness that all fights do not carry equal value. If that is too much of an in congruent example, perhaps the UFC could look to their distant cousin the WWE for guidance. Long before the WWE charged $9.99 per month for a streaming service that includes monthly pay-per-views, the professional wrestling juggernaut experimented with variable pay-per-view pricing for nearly two decades.

Their model was simple; the lesser pay-per-view events would be cheaper than seminal events like WrestleMania. While the UFC does not necessarily schedule their marquee events based on the calendar -yeah, I know, International Fight Week, Super Bowl weekend, New Year’s etc. but let’s be real, the UFC’s big business revolves around when one of their stars decides to fight – they are perceptive about what cards will draw public interest. The risk of course is that unlike boxing or wrestling, MMA is prone to losing headlining bouts at any time. If the UFC were to charge $80 for a Jon Jones fight, and the fight predictably falls through, the UFC would have a PR nightmare on their hands. However, the more likely and satisfying outcome would require the UFC to charge $30 for a Demetrius Johnson headlined pay-per-view.

The UFC knows they have a loyal customer base that will purchase anything on pay-per-view, but their pricing limits the possibility of growing that base. When the UFC was building up their credibility in the late 2000’s they had much less fight inventory; therefore, pay-per-view cards provided great value with familiar fighters. Those days are long gone. The modern UFC has multiple masters to serve and limited stars. Pay-per-view cards have become diluted beyond the point of recognition. The UFC still has the potential to garner one million buys multiple times a year; therefore, there is no need to completely lower their pricing structure across the board. But if they continue to promote lackluster cards, their audience might consider finding entertainment elsewhere.

The UFC is fortunate they have consumers that will pay for monthly pay-per-view, cable television and a streaming service. No other mainstream sport demands that level of spending from their audience.

Perhaps it is time to give those fans a break.

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: Picking a future star from every UFC division



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