ROUNDTABLE: What can be done to improve UFC Fight Night ratings?

By Michael Hiscoe, Managing Editor

The UFC Fight Night show from Buenos Aires had more viewers for the prelims than the main card. What do you think UFC needs to do to get ratings up for Fight Night events?

Sean Covington, Columnist – Covington’s Corner

I think they have to start giving away much bigger fights. The crazy part is, that the last few Fight Nights have been some of the best MMA this year for the UFC. They don’t have to put Cormier on the card but it wouldn’t hurt to pay Conor McGregor a few million to beat up Frankie Edgar. How about a Jon Jones fight against Rumble Johnson, that’ll turn some channels on to FS1 and FS2. There are enough fighters but not enough stars so make stars. UFC has the same problem as WWE; they don’t make new stars and they don’t know how to. Get a consultant in there and start marketing these fighters correctly; all of them. If everyone/anyone can be made into a star then Fight Night will always have them and never run short.

Christian Moore, MMATorch Contributor

To get ratings up, I can think of three things, all of which have negatives. 1. lessen the number of shows, to make sure every show has a big fight. 2. thin out cards, and don’t put on a Supercard PPV, but spread it out amongst Fight Nights. Lastly, the best way for the UFC to higher ratings would be to stick very close to rankings. We see fighters ranked #10 fighting #2 and that’s cool, but have 10 fight 8 or 7. Have 2 fight 3 or 4. Don’t make a big fight between 2 guys ranked quite a ways from each other, but make one high-level fighter fight someone close to them. For example, we saw Volkan vs Smith, and it was great. However, they could have easily done Volkan vs Texiera as a main, and Smith vs Manuwa as the main for another show. I think UFC just needs smarter booking to figure everything out ratings-wise, and very quickly, seeing that their number of shows is jumping up next year with ESPN.

Frank Hyden, Columnist – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I think a lot of it has to do with the lead-in for the prelims, which was a college football game between Michigan and Indiana. That drew way more viewers than any of these MMA shows so I’m sure the prelims got some viewers to stick around for a bit before changing channels. It’s the same reason that whichever network broadcasts the Super Bowl each year runs an episode of one of their shows right after the Super Bowl because they’re trying to expose that show to as big an audience as possible.

This is also what the UFC did with the original season of The Ultimate Fighter, as it aired directly after WWE Monday Night RAW. So, in this case, the prelims outdrawing the main card is partially because of the lead-in and partially because of the lack of big names on the card. Of course, this turned out to be a really good card but a lot of fans couldn’t name any of those fighters if they came in wearing nametags. Star power and big names draw, this isn’t new information, but the only way the UFC can get ratings up for these Fight Night events on a regular basis is to improve the star power on these cards. However, since they want to continue embracing the old method of pay-per-view rather than trying to innovate and get more in line with the 21st century, they’ll just have to put up with these types of occurrences. Which is fine, there’s money to be made in the old ways, but I’m of the mindset personally that there’s a lot more money to be made in a WWE Network-style path. How many MMA fans would pay $10 a month for every UFC numbered card (what is now PPVs)? $120 a year is equal to about 2 PPV events a year. The numbers would tell me that you’d have a lot more people willing to pay $10 a month for a year than people willing to buy 2 PPV events a year.

They don’t have to do this, of course, but the only way to get Fight Night ratings up is to improve the cards. The UFC has to choose a path, and the sooner they do it, the better.

Michael Hiscoe, MMATorch Managing Editor

It’s fair that you can explain away this one odd rating with the prelims outdrawing the main card with the fact that it had a college football lead-in. That would be true, but I think there is a much bigger picture issue here for UFC as they are about to switch TV partners. The numbers from last Saturday and many other Saturdays tell me that there are several hundred thousand people who are willing to watch fights on a Saturday night, sometime between 8 pm eastern and midnight. There are fewer people who are willing to stay up until the end of the show to see the main events that UFC is putting on for these Fight Nights.

The viewers who got hooked on UFC in 2005 and 2006 are more than a decade older, they’re not college students anymore, and they don’t stay up as late as they used to. UFC’s audience has matured and evolved, but their broadcasting strategy has been stagnant since leaving Spike. Moving to ESPN shows no signs of change. The Jan. 19 show is scheduled to have early prelims on ESPN+, more prelims on ESPN cable, and then back to ESPN+ for a main card from 10 pm until 1 am. So in other words, the status quo.


My recommendation to UFC would be to cut 2-4 fights from most shows and make sure you get off the air by midnight. This will ensure that the most viewers possible will see the fighters and fights that UFC most wants them to see.

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