The news came out last night that the early trending numbers for UFC 110 are weak, in the 215,000 to 240,000 range -- which is comparable to many of the UFC's foreign tape-delayed events. The difference was that UFC 110, because it occurred on Sunday afternoon in Australia, aired live in the U.S. at the regular 10pm EST slot.
First off, keep in mind that these same trending numbers for UFC 108 indicated a disastrous number for that event but later reports showed that the numbers were weak, but not as bad as initially feared. Still, 108 ended up doing around 300,000 which is still very weak for a U.S. UFC in the post-TUF era.
Our own Michael Rome predicted something like this for UFC 110:
We are just a few days away from UFC 110, a card that has a number of appealing fights but simultaneously lacks anything with serious drawing power. The event also comes just two weeks after UFC 109, leaving the UFC with precious little time to promote the event in the United States, especially considering the fact that almost everyone in the organization is already in Australia or on their way there.
The main event is a very intriguing fight. Cain Velasquez has stormed through everyone he's fought, but Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira represents a serious step up in competition from the likes of Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell. Unfortunately, the intriguing stylistic aspects of this match probably will not be converted to PPV buys. Velasquez is a relative unknown to UFC fans, and Nogueira, while known, has never drawn a big number in the United States.
The real "draw" of the show is the co-main event between Wanderlei Silva and Michael Bisping. Unfortunately for the UFC, Bisping has been very humble in his approach to this fight, leaving them without much of a hook to sell this fight on. Given the shallow nature of the UFC middleweight division, the winner of this fight will probably only be a fight or two away from a title shot.
The rest of the card is packed with interesting fights that don't mean a lot to casual fans. Internally, people at the UFC are excited to get this card out of the way and get onto a number of big cards with title matches. It's usually hard to predict a buyrate until the day before a show, and since I like to stay safe, I'm going to predict the number falls between 275,000 and 325,000 buys.
BE commenter NotTheFace puts the 110 numbers in context:
In 2009 the UFC averaged 620,000 buys per ppv event. If we look at the percentage each event was above or below that average we can definitely see a downward trend from 100.
UFC 100 1,600,000 + 245%
UFC 101 850,000 + 29%
UFC 102 435,000 -30%
UFC 103 375,000 -40%
UFC 104 500,000 -20%
UFC 106 375,000 -40%
UFC 107 620,000 +/- 0
UFC 108 300,000 -51%
UFC 109 275,000 -55%
UFC 110 240,000 -62%
Wow. Is the UFC in a downward spiral. But here is the other interesting thing we should look at when discussing 2009 ppv buys:
Average with title on line 820,000
Average with non-title main event 370,000
Since 100 there (have) been 3 cards with title defenses (101, 104, and 107) and 6 ppv cards without titles on the line. Lesson to learn? Those belts really matter.
Because of their commitment to international expansion and their failure to lock down a deal with HBO in 2007, the UFC has had too many events and not enough television venues. Pay cable would have been an elegant solution to bringing American fans the European/Australian events. As it is, they're kind of dumped onto the American PPV market in the late afternoon or on Spike TV via tape delay. Neither is an ideal situation.
But many of the flop events of 2009/2010 were NOT international events: 102, 103, 106, 108 and 109 were just flat out duds. Much of that had to do with bad luck and injuries. But the refusal to cancel any of those events in the face of so many fluke fighter cancellations reflects a kind of hubris and inertia that is cause for concern.
The UFC has definitely lost the upward momentum that it had coming out of UFC 100 that carried over to UFC 101.
Another topic that hasn't been brought up much, is the ongoing financial difficulties of Station Casinos, the foundation of the Fertitta family empire. They just reached terms with their creditors this week, allowing them to retain control of the casinos despite owing more than $2.4 billion.
The Las Vegas Sun reported earlier this week that part of that deal included a major payment from the Fertittas:
The Fertittas would make a substantial, but undisclosed, equity investment and the current management team led by Chairman and Chief Executive Frank Fertitta III would continue to lead the company.
MMA Payout noted that and connected some dots:
Note the "substantial, but undisclosed, equity investment" that the Fertittas will have to make in order to retain control of the company. The cash from the 10% sale of Zuffa LLC. to Flash Entertainment in Abu Dhabi might come in handy.
In today's volatile no-you-own-it-now-you-don't business climate, MMA fans shouldn't be too sanguine about the continued success of the UFC. Things just get harder as the stakes get higher.