Over the weekend of April 10, Tiger Woods will return to golf for the Masters. I'm not going to waste anyone's time here with analysis of Tiger's situation, but needless to say this will be among the most-watched golf tournaments in the modern history of Golf. The media attention on Tiger will be obscene, which begs the question: will the mainstream press pay any attention to UFC 112? Over at MMA Payout, Kelsey Philpott had these thoughts:
Just about every media outlet in the world is going to be focused on the Master’s from April 8th to 11th, which means that the UFC’s first event in Abu Dhabi and first ever outdoor event will be fighting for casual sports press table scraps. Tiger is also likely to dominate the news in the days leading up to his event, which happens to be the crucial promotional period of fight week for the UFC.
I don't believe Tiger's return will have much of an effect, though it could provide a convenient excuse for a weak number. As Kelsey says, the demographic crossover between golf and MMA is very small. I'd be shocked if it's over 3%, and it's not as if the events are really going head to head.
Further, the mainstream sports press (read: ESPN) has never given any time to BJ Penn or Anderson Silva. I think BJ's had more airtime on CNN than SportsCenter. For whatever reason, the executives at ESPN have a list of guys they are willing to cover, and that list does not include Anderson Silva or BJ Penn. At least not yet.
I've always been skeptical of the argument that getting on SportsCenter or achieving some level of mainstream television coverage does much for buyrates. UFC 109 had a lot more mainstream coverage than UFC 107, but UFC 107 reportedly did almost double the number of buys. I think that realistically the UFC is drawing its buys from a pool of a few million fans that are well aware of what's going on, and whether or not the main event stars end up on SportsCenter has little effect on whether those fans buy a show.
If the UFC was on free television, mainstream coverage and exposure might make a bigger difference, but I don't believe casual sports fans decide to drop 50 dollars on Saturday night based on a television segment. I've seen no evidence to sustain that belief; in fact, the evidence appears to point to no correlation at all. UFC 92, which had virtually no mainstream coverage, actually did a higher number than UFC 91, which had a monstrous amount of mainstream coverage. Similarly, UFC 71 had more mainstream coverage than ever before at the time, but still fell far short of the Tito-Chuck record at the time.
Regular, meaningful coverage of the UFC on ESPN would certainly help grow the fanbase, but a few segments the week of a fight appears to make little to no difference in the buyrate. On the week of UFC 112, there will be very little media coverage for the show, and not just because of Tiger Woods. Unless the UFC is flying reporters out to the UAE, it's hard to believe many outlets will pay for flights to send their reporters Abu Dhabi. With little media coverage in the states and a show on a bad tape delay, this show will really test the drawing power of the UFC's champions.