This is a guest post by Rami Genauer, Creator and Editor of FightMetric.com.
A recent poll conducted by MMA Junkie produced some numbers that have people talking. Only 49% of respondents said that they had attended a live event in the last year. From what I've read in comments and on other blogs, the immediate reactions are: The market is oversaturated/tickets are too expensive/views are better on TV, so fans just don't want to go to live shows. It seems that people are missing the point of these numbers. The responses were seen as bad for the MMA industry because the implicit assumption is that if only 49% of respondents said they'd attended an event, then all events must be running at 49% crowd capacity.
Here are the problems with the initial question:
1. It was only asked to "hardcore fans," i.e., those that regularly read an MMA news blog.
2. It was asked to global audience, whether live MMA exists in their region or not.
3. It allowed for any event anywhere over the course of 12 months. Could be a UFC, could be a small local show.
4. It only asked if you had been to "a show," without any indication if someone had been to many shows.
So basically, there can be no conclusions drawn as to health of live shows. They could all be selling out and the answer to this question would still be valid. It does, however, lead to one inexorable conclusion: A significant majority of the people you see at any MMA show are not "hardcore fans." It probably doesn't matter what show or what the attendance is. Those 49% were not concentrated in one event; they were spread out across hundreds of events nation- or worldwide. So on a given night, just a portion of them are in attendance at a given show.
What does this mean: The success or failure of an organization's live gate is based almost entirely on its ability to engage local casual fans. A strategy like Rio Heroes' or BodogFight's - to advertise on all the major MMA blogs - is doomed to fail. I think Strikeforce proved the model a while back with the Frank Shamrock-Cesar Gracie show: local advertising, local advertising, and more local advertising. Unless you are the UFC, you can't rely on fans to travel to Vegas, or Montreal, or Columbus, and pay-per-view is not going to save your show. If you are Affliction, your show will only succeed if you can get regular Afflicton-wearing customers in Southern California interested. The fact that people wear your shirts or "live the Affliction lifestyle" in the Midwest or the South is almost meaningless.
The reality is that the MMA blogosphere is beyond myopic. The echo chamber is so loud, we've convinced ourselves that our numbers are stronger and dollars worth more than they actually are. We are a fraction of a fraction. I'm sure MMA writers feel it on a personal level. Write an article for Yahoo and it gets read by ten times the number of people that would read it on a blog. But on the blog, it attracts ten times more email, comments, and blog links. Which is more satisfying?
Even if this is something we don't like to think about, a business that wants to succeed should never forget this. We, the hardcore community, are the early adopters, the people who lined up to get their iPhone on the first day. But the reason why the iPod is the most successful consumer electronics product of the last decade is not because of the tech geeks, it's because Apple convinced the average salaryman that this was something for him too. So the next time you go to a live show and hear some drunken idiot yell "Get a room" when the fight hits the floor, just remember: He's the one keeping that show in business.