Thursday night’s WEC 53 event will mark the end of an organization that never fully lived up to the expectations it was given. With an average viewership of 479,000 (0.5 rating by my math) reported by MMA Fighting on cards not featuring their only real draw, Urijah Faber, the organization hasn't been able to bring in an average viewership that was at least half of the size of any average viewership for a TUF season to date (the lowest being Seasons 6 and 7 reported by MMA Payout with a rating of 1.1).
Although their ratings have been significantly higher when Faber has fought he's only man, and a company can't afford to put all their eggs in one basket. For a company such as Zuffa, the inability to build a crop of fighters that bring in mainstream attention throughout the WEC's lifespan has had to have been a let down for them.
The confidence level that Zuffa had in the WEC brand could be assumed to have been quite low considering that their only pay-per-view event was completely stripped of any WEC branding. In the lead up to the event the term 'WEC' was never mentioned and Zuffa's promotional tactics for the event was completely void of anything WEC related other than the fighters that were on the card.
Promotional videos were identical to those of the UFC, leading the uninformed to believe that the event they were purchasing was a UFC event. The event itself was even ran by the UFC usuals, with Bruce Buffer as the announcer and Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan calling the action. Only if they could have put gold duct tape over WEC on the belts...
Dana stated the reasoning behind the promotion of WEC 48 was that it was a Zuffa pay-per-view and that's how Zuffa pay-per-views are handled, the fact of the matter is that they wanted to depict the event as a UFC event, not a WEC event.
Because of this the card did well and garnered a lot of attention from those that are considered casual fans of the sport. Dana White said that the disappearance of 'WEC' from the card wasn't a reflection of the WEC brand itself and how they felt about it, but actually a result of a compromise made between Spike TV and Versus due to their respective ties to each brand.
"[The WEC and UFC] are two different brands on two different networks," White said. "Even though they're owned by the same company, they're two different brands owned by the same company. The networks aren't going to let us do it." Source: MMA Junkie
I was skeptical at the time this was said and had this gut feeling that we had seen the end of the WEC and for the most part I was right. Nearly nine months after Aldo vs Faber, WEC will be closing it's doors with WEC 53.
Post WEC 48, that included no WEC promotion whatsoever, we were given WEC 49 which drew in the worst ratings for the promotion since WEC 32: Condit vs Prater on February, 13th 2008 which drew in 268,000 viewers. After seeing the numbers for WEC 49 it became apparent that brand recognition really goes a long way. The idea that people would tune in to see fighters over the brand in mixed martial arts was used as reason for why the promotional aspect of WEC 48 shouldn't have been looked at as a big deal, at least thats what some wanted you to believe.
Although two of the contributing factors for as to why the ratings for WEC 49 were low was that it was lacking big name fighters and took place in Canada, the fact can't be overlooked that one card prior to this event Zuffa had the biggest platform to sell the WEC brand to the public and they didn't. If the brand was pushed at WEC 48, WEC 49 would have done better.
Their lack of desire to do so shows that hope had been given up on WEC and the future for the organization was already in motion. Looking back I find it hard to believe that if Zuffa really wanted to promote the brand at WEC 48 they couldn't have.
The idea that Versus would be unwilling to allow Spike TV to use the WEC's name because of rights is something that I just don't buy. Zuffa always has the UFC card to pull, and with the debut of UFC On Versus bringing in almost double the amount of viewers of any WEC card on Versus not including Faber, that is a card that could be pulled any time. While lacking star power the UFC name alone was able to do what the WEC brand has never been able to do for their network, bring in viewers on just the name.
Zuffa could have easily hinted the notion that if WEC 48 wasn't promoted the way that they wanted to then they would no longer broadcast any UFC On Versus cards. Surprisingly though, this was never brought up when asked as to why the promoting for WEC 48 played out the way it did.
As stated before they have never been able to establish a mainstream name other than Urijah Faber, which their ratings reflect. The biggest card they ever had was also tremendously helped by having an ex-UFC star in the main event against Faber, Jens Pulver. Other than his fight with Pulver and his rematch with Mike Brown, Urijah's numbers have even been somewhat disappointing.
At the end of the day it becomes somewhat clear as to what plans Zuffa had for WEC, they wanted to dump it due to it's inability to draw big numbers. I can't blame them for wanting to get rid of WEC. This will end up being better for the fighters absorbed by the UFC, giving them the opportunity to get bigger bonuses, more exposure and better sponsorships.
Although I'm in favor of this 'merger' I grow tired of the stories told to us for as to why these types of things happen. The excuses for the lack of branding at WEC 48, the absorption of the fighters from WEC to UFC and the collapse of an organization can't help but make me wonder how truthful Dana was when he said he tried his hardest to get Pride FC back in Japan but couldn't due to politics. The WEC debacle seems to me like Pride FC all over again. Truthfully no one really cares if Zuffa failed or not with WEC as long as we get good fights, so why lie about it?
This article can also be viewed at my site www.joeshowradio.com
Thanks for reading.