SBJ/May 23-29, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

UFC puts live fights on cable and Facebook to help drive pay-per-view sales

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The broadcast package for UFC 129 was a good example of the options for distribution that the company is willing to try. Beginning at 6 p.m., five preliminary fights aired live online, via Facebook. At 8 p.m., the broadcast shifted to Spike for three fights, which showed two fights live and promoted the pay-per-view, which came on at 9 p.m.

Spike has aired prelims before 16 UFC pay-per-views dating to September 2009. They deliver ratings that are strikingly consistent, with 13 of them each delivering between 1.3 million and 1.7 million viewers. UFC 129 came in at 1.5 million, winning its time slot on cable for men 18-49.

While so small as to be inconsequential, the viewing of live fights through Facebook, linked back through the UFC website, has Lorenzo Fertitta, the chairman and CEO of UFC, particularly excited, because it has the potential to dramatically increase his pay-per-view income one day. When a consumer buys a fight through a cable or satellite provider, about half of the money goes to the provider. When it goes directly to UFC.com, UFC keeps all the revenue.

How large a cut aggregators like Facebook and Yahoo! stand to collect remains to be seen, but it certainly won’t be close to the half that the cable and satellite providers get.

“I’m not saying we want to take them out of the equation,” Fertitta said. “But reaching China and reaching India, that might be more likely to evolve through the Internet.

“I don’t know if it’s five years or 10 years or 20 years, but eventually every single person is going to have a television that’s connected to the Internet. And if you have that, we can push the pay-per-view to you.”

— Bill King

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