Time UFC changed its PPV ap­proach

Pro­mo­tion should go to four mas­sive events a year in­stead of a so-so one each month

The Province - - SPORTS - E. Spencer Kyte E. Spencer Kyte cov­ers MMA for The Sun and The Prov­ince. Fol­low him on so­cial me­dia: @spencerkyte.

Com­ing off a ban­ner year in 2016 where Conor McGre­gor head­lined a trio of shows that gar­nered more than 1.3 mil­lion buys and two ad­di­tional events (UFC 200 and UFC 207) each sur­passed the one-mil­lion-buys mile­stone, re­turns on the UFC’s monthly num­bered of­fers have fallen off dra­mat­i­cally.

With McGre­gor tak­ing a break to box, Ronda Rousey once again hav­ing de­parted and Brock Les­nar back in the WWE (and sus­pended), this year’s nine pay-per-view events have gen­er­ated an es­ti­mated 2.5 mil­lion buys com­bined, good for an av­er­age of 277,000 buys per show. By com­par­i­son, McGre­gor’s three head­lin­ing ap­pear­ances in 2016 gen­er­ated roughly 4.2 mil­lion buys alone, with the 13-event slate av­er­ag­ing just over 650,000 buys.

What makes those stark dif­fer­ences in num­bers even more in­trigu­ing is UFC 214, the late July event head­lined by a light-heavy­weight cham­pi­onship re­match be­tween Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones, ac­counts for 850,000 buys on its own, 34 per cent of the year-to-date to­tal.

Although there have been a num­ber of com­pelling cham­pi­onship fights sta­tioned atop the other eight pay-per-view events this year, that event is the sole fight card head­lined by an es­tab­lished star. When viewed in com­bi­na­tion with last year’s num­bers, it high­lights just how im­por­tant hav­ing a bank­able fig­ure com­pet­ing in the main event of each payper-view is to the fi­nal sales to­tals, which makes next month’s re­turn to Madison Square Gar­den an in­ter­est­ing test case.

Head­lined by re­turn­ing for­mer wel­ter­weight champ Ge­orges St-Pierre chal­leng­ing Michael Bisp­ing for the mid­dleweight ti­tle, UFC 217 is the most star-stud­ded event of the year, with two ad­di­tional cham­pi­onship bouts and a hand­ful of es­tab­lished names and in­trigu­ing matchups lit­tered through­out the un­der­card. Given re­cent trends, it should pro­duce one of the best buy rates of 2017 and if that holds true, it might give the UFC rea­son to re­con­sider how it han­dles pay-per-view events in 2018 and be­yond.

If fans only seem to be tun­ing in when the big­gest names are step­ping into the Oc­tagon, is it pos­si­ble the UFC opts to dras­ti­cally de­crease the num­ber of pay-per-view events it holds each year while si­mul­ta­ne­ously load­ing up those se­lect shows in hopes of se­cur­ing the high­est pos­si­ble re­turns?

It’s some­thing I’ve won­dered about for a num­ber of years and a con­cept that feels like its time might be com­ing. Not only are payper-view num­bers way down from 2016 — and down on the whole since the hal­cyon days of 2008-11, where 300,000 buys was the low-wa­ter mark — but the UFC’s TV con­tract with FOX is set to ex­pire and if the com­pany was ever go­ing to go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion in terms of its sched­ule and ap­proach, now would be the time.

I’ve al­ways liked the idea of em­brac­ing a “Big Four” ap­proach to pay-per-views — one ma­jor event each quar­ter, each of them loaded with as much tal­ent as pos­si­ble. The big week­ends the UFC has an­nu­ally tar­geted align nicely with the idea — Su­per Bowl in Fe­bru­ary, U.S. Me­mo­rial Day in May, In­ter­na­tional Fight Week in July, New Year’s in De­cem­ber — and give fight fans some­thing to gen­uinely look for­ward to ev­ery cou­ple of months.

Rather than try­ing to con­vince an au­di­ence that can watch MMA al­most ev­ery week­end to open their wal­lets for qual­ity events head­lined by lesser-known champs and emerg­ing tal­ents, this ap­proach could cre­ate an op­por­tu­nity to put some of those un­sung ti­tle­hold­ers on TV, ex­pos­ing them to a larger au­di­ence in hopes of de­vel­op­ing them into big­ger names who can even­tu­ally fill key po­si­tions on the quar­terly, can’t-miss, pay-per-view events.

In the sec­ond quar­ter of this year alone, there were four cham­pi­onship fights spread across three payper-views. Com­bin­ing those three fight cards would cre­ate a crack­er­jack event and send out­stand­ing main-card fights from each of those PPV shows out to the an­cil­lary events on TV, mean­ing more peo­ple would see Cyn­thia Calvillo beat­ing Pearl Gon­za­lez or Frankie Edgar run­ning through Yair Ro­driguez or maybe even Max Hol­loway claim­ing the feath­er­weight ti­tle with a vir­tu­oso per­for­mance against Jose Aldo.

Would that amal­gam of UFC 210, 211 and 212 gen­er­ate more than the es­ti­mated 800,000 buys those three shows gen­er­ated on their own?

With the right lineup, proper pro­mo­tion and sev­eral weeks of an­tic­i­pa­tion since the last pay-per-view block­buster, I don’t think there is any doubt. Could it hap­pen? Time will tell.

All buy-rate to­tals are es­ti­mates, pro­vided by Tapol­ogy, as UFC doesn’t dis­close of­fi­cial to­tals.

— THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

With­out Conor McGre­gor fight­ing to draw in view­ers, the Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship’s pay-per-view event buy rates are way down this year.

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