With the recent reports of UFC 125's relative failure on PPV and truly dismal numbers at the gate, there was some discussion on whether the UFC should consider lowering ticket prices. In the comments to the aforementioned article, I mentioned the fact that between travel expenses, lodging and the high prices of tickets, I've never been able to afford to go to a live UFC event all. The closest I came to ever going to a UFC event was hanging around the MGM grand while at a business conference the weekend Liddell punched the eyeballs out of Jeremy Horn's head. It would cost me well over a Grand to attend a UFC event bottom dollar if I wanted to bring my son or wife. By contrast, for the cost of the UFC tickets alone, I was able to attend a Chicago Cubs game(one of the hardest teams to find tickets for period) and spend copious amounts of money on other things for the cost of decent UFC tickets(before scalpers) alone.
As I said in the discussion, I feel that as the UFC grows in popularity that ticket prices will actually fall. As Mike Fagan pointed out, as worded, that flies in the face of traditional economic principles. But I don't believe the issue is as simple as supply vs demand. Right now the UFC is a "premium sport" which is distinctly unlike MLB, the NBA or the NFL, which are mass appeal sports. These mass appeal sports are on free TV. People don't pay extra to see them and they're broadly accepted by a large cross section of society. Die hard Redsox fans who obscene amounts of cash on memorabilia range from little old ladies to young males of any demographic. This is different than the UFC, which even in-spite of the popularity explosion in the last few years and exploding number of hardcore fans, is still essentially a niche sport for the middle-class. While this is a guess, you'd be hard pressed to prove otherwise that most UFC ticket buyers are not devoted fans already used to paying the 50 dollar premiums to watch the major events in the first place. Whether or not their "hardcore" fans as we understand what that means isn't important if they're already used to paying to see it in their living rooms. It's only natural they'd be willing to pay more than that to see the show live.
My personal belief is that the UFC will become more of a mass appeal sport in the future. While the brutality and violence of it may never win over everyone, the vast majority of our popular culture is loaded with violence, often with more malicious intend than ever expressed in a sports competition between two athletes, which is what MMA in the end is. Names like Eminem, 50 cent and Metallica populate various lists of different album sales records. Outside of Pixar family films the phrase "Summer Blockbuster" instantly brings up images of explosions, machine guns, crashing helicopters and action heros. The argument that the violence inherent in our sport will hold it back just doesn't hold much water in our society. Especially as baby boomer influence continues to fade. Boxing at one time was the most popular sporting event in America. Pro wrestling has enjoyed tremendous mainstream success. MMA can do the same. If there is one thing Americans love, it's them some violence.
I don't think there is any reason to believe that PPV is going to be around forever. With the availability of illegal streams, the change in our television habits, and the empirical evidence in the decline of other PPV ventures like pro-wrestling and boxing, the long term prospects of PPV as the UFC's golden goose isn't something you'd want to hedge any real bets on. As the UFC grows, it is invariably going to out-grow PPV entirely. There is a finite limit to the number of people who will still pay for fights at all. The UFC will eventually become a television sport as the number of people who would watch it outgrows the number of people who will pay for it. If the NFL switched to a Pay-Per-View model, their profit margins would fall into an unflushed toilet.
The reason for this fanpost is to incite some discussion from the respected community. I've had some private discussion with Kid Nate on this but I'd like to hear from guys like Nottheface, Jonathan Snowden and others with better knowledge of the business side of things than I.
If the UFC is ever going to graduate from casino arenas originally designed for Elvis impersonators and Vegas style freakshows and into real sports stadiums, is there any reason to believe they could do that by charging 300 bucks a pop for decent seats with the best ticket prices still well north of 100 dollars? I don't see a chance in hell. The UFC will have to lower prices to adjust for the change in their overall business model. The NFL's average ticket price is 74 dollars. For major league baseball, the average is between 20 and 30 dollars. While these sports have many more games per season, the UFC is a year round sport, and planning more and events all the time.
Questions I'd like the discussion to address -
1. Is the UFC ever going to be able to fill a 40k arena, regardless of ticket prices? Could they do it under the current pricing structure?
2. Is PPV a viable long term business model? If not, how does the UFC adjust to those changes?
3. Can the UFC or MMA ever become as mainstream as the UFC says they want to(whether or not that is a real goal is something else)
4. Is there some sort of ceiling that the sport will never realistically be able to get past? If so what are the reasons for that?
5. Can anyone give me a reliable figure of the average UFC ticket cost between all events since say, UFC 66 and now? Or even UFC 100 and now?
6. Please explain whatever thing I missed that possibly destroys my argument entirely.