The "Biz" section in the new issue of Sports Illustrated has some intriguing stats regarding Versus (the television home of Zuffa-owned World Extreme Cagefighting) and its performance since the basic cable channel was rebranded from OLN (Outdoor Life Network) back in 2006. The report cites programming from such diverse outlets as the NHL, PBR (Professional Bull Riders), IndyCar and, of course, WEC as contributing factors to Versus' downward trending demographics (average viewer age is 43, down from 50+ in OLN days) and 24% increase in primetime audience from 2007 to 2008.
SI's Joe Lemire writes:
The programming is not unlike ESPN's in it early years, which highlighted tractor pulls and Australian rules football.
Of course ESPN had far less competition in the mid-1980s than Versus has now, but the strategy seems to be working. The average age of Versus's audience, over 50 in the OLN days when hunting and fishing were the star attractions, has dipped to 43, and its overall primetime audience increased 24% from 2007 to '08, to an average of 278,000 according to Nielsen (about 10% of ESPN's audience). This year's Tour of California, boosted by Lance Armstrong's return, drew an average viewership of 185,000, up 300% from last year; the NHL is up 27% (including 63% among men aged 18 to 34), to an average of 326,000 viewers. College football audiences ranged from 57,000 for a Brown-Penn game to 1.6 million for Oregon-Oregon State.
It's interesting that, though the WEC's ratings have been relatively disappointing since their WEC 34 apex, they've still been pulling more viewers than Versus' average NHL game.