Photo by Josh Hedges, Zuffa LLC via Getty Images.
When the UFC announced only days before UFC 125 that it would be airing three preliminary fights on ION TV it was a suprising announcement. The UFC and Spike TV have been joined at the hip since 2005 when The Ultimate Fighter made the UFC a commercially viable entity in the U.S.
Many wondered how the show would fare given the short notice and ION's status as the least of the U.S. television networks.
MMA Mania breaks the news of the ratings:
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) drew 829,000 viewers in its debut on Ion Television. This is the first televised UFC preliminary card that failed to attract over one million viewers.
MMA Payout has some analysis:
This is a new low for a UFC Prelims broadcast as the previous was 1.1 million at UFC 118. However, I'm not surprised. The UFC announced this broadcast a week before and didn't really get the word out as much as it probably wanted to. Moreover, there were problems on Ion's end: the broadcast started with a black screen for the first few minutes (at least on Comcast in Oregon) and the program listing was set to 9pm PST instead of 6pm PST.
The ratings for the UFC 125 Prelims on Ion could have been better, but they could have been worse too. It'll be interesting to see if the UFC returns to the network and how much promotion they throw behind the next set. As mentioned in the Payout Perspective, there seems to be a battle looming between Zuffa and Spike over the expiration of the UFC's television agreement in 2011. The performance of the UFC on Ion will undoubtedly play a role in the negotiating leverage the UFC has with Spike and other networks.
MMA Weekly has a list of all of the UFC preliminary shows that have been aired on how they did:- UFC 103: 1.4 million viewers
- UFC 104: 1.4 million viewers
- UFC 106: 1.3 million viewers
- UFC 108: 1.5 million viewers
- UFC 109: 1.7 million viewers
- UFC 111: 1.2 million viewers
- UFC 114: 1.6 million viewers
- UFC 115: 1.5 million viewers
- UFC 116: 1.3 million viewers
- UFC 118: 1.1 million viewers
- UFC 119: 1.3 million viewers
- UFC 121: 1.5 million viewers
- UFC 123: 1.5 million viewers
- UFC 125: 829,000 viewers
The real significance of these numbers is whatever impact they have on the UFC's negotiations with Spike, Fox, Comcast/NBC/Versus, and any other network or cable provider that wants to jump in and bid.
The UFC won't surrender production control so that will likely eliminate HBO and ESPN/ABC from the realm of the possible. CBS has its deal with Showtime and Strikeforce although that appears to be on hold.
The fact that neither Fox nor FX cut a deal with Bellator makes me think they're a live underdog in this hunt.
My money is on a return to Spike but anything is possible. The UFC would be foolish to openly chose another suitor when there is another year left on their Spike contract. Cable TV is their essential promotional arm for PPV sales. If Spike decides their relationship is over and the UFC won't be back, they have enormous power to damage the UFC and weaken it, lowering the asking price for other bidders.
Don't write off Versus either. There are rumors and rumors that they will become NBC's sports channel if the Comcast acquisition is finalized.