SBD/November 14, 2011/Media

UFC Debuts On Fox With 3.1 Rating; Telecast Draws In Young Male Demographic

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Dos Santos celebrates winning heavyweight title in first UFC bout on Fox
Fox earned a 3.1 fast-national Nielsen rating and 5.7 million viewers for the network premiere of UFC Saturday night from 9:00-10:00pm ET. Junior Dos Santos’ first-round knockout of Cain Velasquez marked the most-viewed UFC event ever and the most-viewed professional fight of any kind since HBO averaged 7.0 million viewers for Lennox Lewis’ defeat of Vitali Klitschko in '03. UFC also topped EliteXC’s debut telecast on CBS in May ’08, which averaged a 3.0 rating and 4.9 million viewers on a Saturday night from 9:00-11:51 for a fight card featuring Kimbo Slice. Since the conclusion of the MLB postseason, Fox' 9:00-10:00pm Saturday window has featured a repeat episode of "Terra Nova" (1.2 rating, 1.9 million viewers) and a special episode of "America's Most Wanted" (2.6 rating, 4.3 million viewers). Prior to the baseball playoffs, Fox normally aired re-runs of "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show" in that window, averaging close to a 1.0 rating. While fast-national figures were not available for college football telecasts in the same window, “UFC on Fox” will likely have a larger audience than Maryland-Notre Dame on NBC and Mississippi State-Alabama on ESPN, but come in well below ABC’s Oregon-Stanford telecast. Las Vegas topped all markets for the bout with a 5.3 local rating, followed by Dallas-Ft. Worth, Phoenix and San Antonio, which each earned a 5.1 local rating (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).

TUNING IN: YAHOO SPORTS’ Dave Meltzer noted Fox' broadcast was the “largest audience ever to watch an MMA television show in the United States, breaking the record of 5.3 million set on Sept. 30, 2009, for an episode of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality show on Spike TV featuring a taped match of Kimbo Slice vs. Roy Nelson.” Although Fox execs “would not predict a rating ahead of time, reports in the business press were that the network was selling ads based on predictions of 4.5 million viewers, so even with the short fight, they easily beat their goal.” The show was “an even bigger success in the target demographics, doing a 4.3 among males aged 18-34 and 4.0 in males 18-49." The “most impressive” figure was that the show “drew 1.7 million women over the age of 18” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/13). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir wrote under the header, “Fox’s UFC Broadcast A Hit With Viewers.” The 4.3 rating in the male 18-34 demo is higher than "any college football telecast this season” outside of LSU-Alabama on Nov. 5 (N.Y. TIMES, 11/13). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes the 5.7 million viewers is not a huge number "compared to major sports, but the fight did well among key male demographics and it wasn't bad considering the fight went up against college football, including a marquee matchup between Stanford and Oregon” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 11/14).

SHORT BUT SWEET? The AP’s Greg Beacham noted Dos Santos beat Velasquez in just 64 seconds, bringing a “swift end" to UFC's primetime network debut. The national audience “got a taste of MMA’s violence but not much else in the unusually short fight.” White “chose the two fearsome fighters for his Fox debut because of the high potential for a stoppage victory.” But he was “clearly not thrilled with just how quickly that end arrived, criticizing Velasquez’s decision to stand and fight with Dos Santos, one of the best boxers in MMA.” Beacham noted “most of the broadcast was taken up by a primer on MMA and the two fighters -- along with more post-fight analysis than expected” (AP, 11/12). FOXSPORTS.com’s Billy Witz wrote UFC’s “long-awaited prime time moment was just that -- a moment.” Although White “raved about the production being a success, he conspicuously avoided any such flowery assessment of the fight.” Dos Santos-Velasquez “lacked the drama or controversy of Manny Pacquiao’s decision over Juan Manuel Marquez later Saturday night.” White: “What you guys have to understand is we were talking to people who have never seen UFC before. We were trying to educate people. Most of us live in this bubble of MMA. You have to ease these people into this. Tonight, we eased our way into national television” (FOXSPORTS.com, 11/13).

Dos Santos celebrates his title with Lorenzo
Fertitta (l), White and Frank Fertitta (r)

COMES WITH THE TERRITORY: ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto wrote a “highlight-reel finish is never a bad thing when you’re trying to introduce a sport to new fans, but how many saw it?” Zuffa co-Owner Lorenzo Fertitta said, “You always want a fight that’s going to be decisive and we certainly had that. From a ratings perspective, it will probably affect it in a negative way. People tune in to watch the fight and once it’s over, you tend to leave the channel. But overall, I think it’s going to be a success.” Fox Sports Media Group Chair David Hill admitted that he and White “discussed the ‘tactics’ of booking a single, heavyweight fight in hindsight, but added he was overwhelmingly satisfied with the product.” Hill: “It absolutely delivered everything I hoped it would. I spoke to Dana and maybe, tactically, Dana didn’t play it the right way. But this is what you get in this sport. This is world heavyweight champion action" (ESPN.com, 11/13). In L.A., Baxter Holmes wrote the nation “caught its first network prime-time glimpse” of UFC, but it was “just a glimpse.” White said, “For anybody to (complain) about this fight and (that) they didn't get to see that fight, shut up. You should've bought tickets then if you wanted to see all the fights and you don't want to watch on Facebook." White said that this was “a test run for UFC's seven-year deal with Fox, which begins in January, so the broadcast format could change” (L.A. TIMES, 11/13). SB NATION’s Eric Stephen wrote a “lightning-quick victory isn't necessarily bad.” Stephen wrote after watching the match on Fox he is “more inclined to watch UFC going forward” (SBNATION.com, 11/12).

PRAISE FOR THE PRODUCTION: In S.F., Peter Hartlaub wrote most of the first Fox UFC broadcast "was well done,” and the broadcast team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan “did a good job of keeping things simple for new fans” (SFGATE.com, 11/12). YAHOO SPORTS’ Maggie Hendricks wrote the hour-long broadcast was “well-paced and informative, but far from perfect.” There were “elements that the UFC and Fox should definitely do again, and a few they need to change.” Some of the changes could include reminding White “to take a breath.” Hendricks noted White, who served as an analyst, was “excited and nervous, but my Twitter timeline was filled with people who don't usually watch MMA saying that they didn't understand White.” In addition, Fox and UFC next time should “make room for another fight, or at least show a highlight reel of the undercard” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/13). In Las Vegas, Case Keefer noted first UFC fight on network TV “featured nothing resembling momentum swings or heavy slugging exchanges that would have captivated casual sports fans.” Still, White described the co-production with the UFC and FOX on the evening as “seamless” (LAS VEGAS SUN, 11/13). SI.com’s Jeff Wagenheim wondered, “What kind of impression did the UFC make on those folks at home who were curious enough to tune in?” Viewers “might have had a better chance of ‘getting’ the UFC if they'd got to see the co-main event.” Still, that UFC’s time under the network TV spotlight “involved just 64 seconds of fighting did not bother” White. He said, "Tonight couldn't have gone better” (SI.com, 11/13).

CONVERTING THE CURIOUS INTO FANS: In N.Y., Barry Bearak noted UFC was seeking “to make its way into the mainstream,” but can Saturday night fights on Fox -- this one and four next year – “entice the curious into the octagon and win their loyalty?” TBA Worldwide Chief Strategy Officer Rich Luker, said, “UFC is definitely bigger now than boxing or wrestling, maybe even the two combined, though not yet as big as either during their peaks. It’s clearly the flavor of the month, but that was once true of poker and then the numbers fell like a rock.” Zuffa’s books are private, but Fertitta said, “I feel pretty comfortable saying we’re the most valuable sports franchise on the planet, more than Manchester United, more than the New York Yankees, more than the Dallas Cowboys.” Bearak noted that would put UFC “in the $2 billion range.” UFC has acquired World Extreme Cagefighting, Pride Fighting Championships and Strikeforce and it is “provoking complaints of monopolistic practices.” But Fertitta said, “We bought up guys who were going bankrupt. There’s no barrier to entry. If you want to start your own league, put together three letters, buy an octagon and sign some fighters.” Complaints about “antitrust violations have been made to the Federal Trade Commission, which has not disclosed whether an official investigation is under way.” Fertitta: “I don’t want to talk about the FTC. It’s inappropriate given that they are asking us questions, and I really can’t get into any details” (N.Y. TIMES, 11/12).
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