With all of the back and forth between Randy Couture and the UFC brain trust and numbers being thrown about, looking at a few of the figures gives us insight into the well being of the company.....
With all of the back and forth between Randy Couture and the UFC brain trust and numbers being thrown about, looking at a few of the figures gives us insight into the well being of the company. During the press conference by Dana and Lorenzo we were able to glean from their handouts the recent performance of the UFC on PPV. According to Dana, Randy's fight with tim sylvia did in the neighborhood of 520k buys while his showdown with heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga did about 480k buys. While these numbers are good in historical context, they represent a noted cooling off in the PPV performance of the UFC.
Couture represents one of the higher profile and more bankable stars for the company, so the modest PPV sales in comparison to the salad days of 2006 must be seen as worrisome by UFC brass. 2006 was a watershed year for the UFC in terms of the numbers they did on PPV. They went from a company that was ecstatic if a PPV did 250k to 300k buys to one that was able to triple and quadruple those numbers on a regular basis during 2007. From Hughes-Gracie, to Shamrock - Ortiz, to Hughes Penn 2, through to Liddell Ortiz 2, the UFC was seemingly break PPV records for mma fighting with each successive broadcast.
With Couture's fights not doing as well as one would expect, the once firm basement level of 400k PPV buys, figured to be the minimum number of buys a UFC fight would do, has to be re-thought. This basement level is generally thought to be what numbers they do with a non-superstar headlining, ie an Anderson Silva defense title. With Couture -Gonzaga going only slightly over this minimum, one has to think that the Silva- Franklin 2 fight dipped under this level by a sizable number.
There was a foreshadowing of this slowdown in PPV sales earlier in the year when Lt Heavy weight Champion Chuck Liddell faced off against challenger Quinton Rampage Jackson. The fight between Liddell and Jackson arguably received the highest level of mainstream media attention of any UFC fight ever, and Dana White was highly optimistic in his projections of sales for the showdown. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer reported at the time that White expected in the neighborhood of 1 million buys, nearing the record of 1.2 million buys done by Tito Ortiz vs Liddell 2. While high expectations may have been warranted, the actual PPV's sold had to be seen as a disappointment. Meltzer reported that Rampage's PPV bonus was paid based on 620k buys, almost a third less than projected.
There are several conceivable reasons for the the sizable dip and subsequent leveling off of PPV numbers. The high number of upsets in high profile match-ups has hinder the ability of the company to make some bankable match-ups. Another possible reason would be the havoc that The Ultimate Fighter Television show has on the PPV and title pictures in the UFC. The results of TUF: the comeback lead to some rather unappealing match-ups headlining the initial few cards of 2007. The new season of TUF also lead to the Welterweight championship being undefended for close to 8 months, depriving several PPVs during time of a marquee match-up.
While these numbers indicate a significant drop in UFC's PPV performance, they are at a level that provide Zuffa with still sizable profit margin. Protecting those margins in the face of shrinking PPV sales may be a factor in some of the decisions in respect to the UFC - Couture situation. Couture's lack of an "off the books" discretionary bonus could be one possible casualty of these cost cutting measures.