UFC 125 Live Gate: Nearly Half the Crowd Got in Free

Poster design by Anton Tabuena.

Going into UFC 125 no one expected barn burner business. UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar still hadn't clicked with fans. Challenger Gray Maynard was best known for grinding out decisions with his wrestling. Worst of all, multiple co-headlining bouts had to be cancelled due to injuries -- first Shane Carwin vs Roy Nelson was called off, then featherweight champ Jose Aldo had to bow out. That left the card with Chris Leben vs Brian Stann as the co-main.

Clearly it wasn't enough to save ticket sales. USA TODAY has the story:

UFC 125 on Jan. 1 in Las Vegas generated a $2.17 million gate on 6,978 tickets sold, according to Nevada State Athletic Commission figures released on Thursday. Comp tickets totaled 5,896 seats, or almost 46% of the live audience for UFC 125, which featured champion Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard.

Their title fight generated the second-lowest total for ticket sales at a numbered UFC event in Las Vegas over at least the last six years, edging only UFC 106 in November 2009, when Tito Ortiz battled Forrest Griffin.

MMA Payout comments:

The New Year's Day fight date may have contributed to the low gate.Also, preoccupation with other events such as festivities on New Year's Eve, bowl games and NHL's Winter Classic (which was delayed for weather and time slot competed with UFC 125) may have caused the downturn.

Another question that looms is the attraction of the lighter weight classes. Can they carry a main event PPV? Aside from BJ Penn at 155, will fans pay to watch a lightweight PPV. I think Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber are the only other fighters that could main event a PPV. Otherwise, main events featuring lighter weight classes may be better suited for Fight Nights. The lighter weight classes are quicker and appear more technical, but there seems to be something that attract fans to the heavier weight classes.

UFC 125 shows the limitations of the UFC's sell the brand, not the fighters strategy. What that strategy has succeeded in doing is building a high and very profitable floor for generic UFC events that feature no major draws. There is a nice sized hardcore of UFC fans that will buy any event they put out. What it can't do is make casual fans tune in to fights if they don't care about the headliners.

The fact that Edgar and Maynard delivered one of the most dramatic, action packed and exciting MMA fights in history will help the rematch sell tickets and PPVs but also expect the sequel to have a much stronger supporting cast.

More ominously, weak ticket sales and a weaker economy in their home town of Las Vegas is a troubling sign for the UFC. I'm curious to see if they'll bend on ticket prices in 2011. Throughout 2009 and 2010 they refused to lower ticket prices despite the recession. But if fans figure out that there's no need to pay for tickets since half the crowd will be getting in free, that will hurt revenue much more than lowering ticket prices. 

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