In this week's Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscription only), Dave Meltzer reports on a very interesting internal survey commissioned by the UFC:
UFC has done extensive studying regarding its PPV buyers and there were some interesting things that it showed. The average number of viewers per household at a UFC PPV show is ten…The research showed that it varies based on the event. The stronger the event, the higher the average…For UFC, a live show on Spike, the number is closer to 1.5 per household.
The feeling is there are about 200,000 UFC hardcore PPV fans who will watch the show. The rest are going to buy if friends want them to buy, which is why the numbers vary so much. Most of the audience variance are people who are not MMA fans, but fans looking to watch entertainment that people are talking about. It has more of an entertainment lure than a sports lure to the general public.
The feeling is well over 16 million people saw UFC 100 on television, which is as big as the biggest sporting events on network television except NFL playoffs, World Series and NCAA finals.
There's a lot to unpack here. I'd really love to see the actual study, just to get an idea of how big the sample was and where it was drawn from. It certainly does not include the number of people who stream the show illegally, but at the same time that number only adds to the total number of viewers watching the show, so it doesn't hurt the study.
I'd be interested to know if the sample includes those that pay for the Yahoo stream. In my personal experience, if I order a show I am far more likely to have people over to watch it than if I just watch it on the Yahoo stream. I've always questioned the "10 people per event" number the UFC throws out, but I've been to a fair share of event parties with 10-20 people at the show, half of whom see a couple events a year, if that. It would be also interesting to know if this study includes events at sports bars, which often have upwards of 200+ people.
The fact that 10 people show up to watch PPV events on average is very significant, if true, especially when you consider the 1.5 multiplier for Spike shows. Some writers, including yours truly, have floated a theory that it's better to compete against the UFC on PPV nights because even their biggest number is still smaller than their average number on Spike TV. This new data suggests that competing against the UFC on PPV dates would be a flawed strategy.
Many have argued that the UFC is stunting its long term growth by sticking to a PPV model. According to proponents of this theory, the UFC should be willing to take a short term revenue loss in order to get a broadcast teleivision deal, which would help expose the product to the masses. But if this internal survey data is correct, going on free television is unlikely to increase the total number of people that see the fights. If these numbers are correct, over 16 million Americans watched UFC 100 on PPV. Does anyone think they'd have done much higher than that on broadcast television? It seems like people find a way to see these shows regardless of whether they're free.
The survey's conclusion that most fans that watch are not hardcore MMA fans is not a huge surprise. This is why companies like the IFL fail while PPV's like Ortiz-Shamrock 2 draw huge numbers. However, it would be a mistake to assume that entertainment and sports are entirely distinct from one another. The fact that Machida-Shogun drew a bigger number than Griffin-Ortiz suggests that even those fans that watch for entertainment purposes are largely influenced by sports considerations.
Update: I got an email from Dave Meltzer saying that the survey does not include bars.