In the past month, we've received weekend after weekend of live MMA cards. Bellator is every Saturday, but between Strikeforce and the UFC, we have gotten a Zuffa card just about every Saturday as well.
I'm a numbers guy, I love looking at, comparing, and contrasting numbers and seeing if there is anything to make of it. When I was strictly a movie fanatic, box office numbers and trends were what I loved looking at, I said as soon as it was announced that December 18th, 2009 was pretty much the perfect release date for Avatar. Back on point, looking at the ratings between the 3 top MMA promotions in North America in the last few weeks, there are definitely some things to take away from the numbers and think about.
Let's start where it is always best to start, at the beginning. The raw ratings numbers are the key to the points I'll be making later, so it is best to start with them, and what better place to start then the beginning?
September 10th, 2011 - Bellator 49, the first card of Bellator's fifth season of tournaments, and the Strikeforce World Grand Prix Semifinals went head to head.
Predating this, Bellator's 3 'Summer Series' cards averaged 242,000 viewers, while the two Strikeforce Grand Prix cards posted the promotions two best average ratings in the promotion's history on Showtime. So how did the ratings go?
- Bellator - 235,000
- Strikeforce - 274,000
Now, for Bellator the rating was only slightly less then what their Summer Series averaged. For Strikeforce, the rating was the 2nd lowest average in Strikeforce-Showtime history, despite being a truly stacked card featuring the two semifinal matchups of the GP, a title fight, and a former champion.
September 17th, 2011 - This time around, Bellator 50 was going up against UFC Fight Night 25, which was live and free on Spike. The UFC card had been criticized as being a rather 'weak' card, despite featuring two TUF winners and a formal title challenger and top 5 Welterweight in Jake Shields. The ratings 'battle' was much more of a slaughter.
- Bellator - 114,000
- UFC - 1.8 million
Bellator drew their lowest ratings ever on MTV2 when going up against a free UFC Fight Night card on Spike...and one that had been sort of downtalked by plenty of fans.
September 24th, 2011 - This was a bit of a horse of a different color, as Bellator 51 was going up against a Pay Per View in UFC 135. Needless to say, this wasn't a ratings battle so much as it was more of a test to see how the free to watch Bellator held up when a PPV was there to hog the headlines. UFC 135's buyrate(which hasn't been estimated yet) and it's prelims ratings on Spike aren't really relevant to the point.
- Bellator - 158,000
Bellator posted it's third lowest MTV2 rating when it was up against a UFC Pay Per View.
- Bellator - 269,000
- UFC - 789,000
Bellator scored it's 2nd highest average rating in it's MTV2 history, while the UFC card posted the highest ratings for the UFC on Versus in 2011, and 3rd highest for Versus overall.
1. Whatever power the Strikeforce brand had, it's seriously weakened - A stacked SF card pulled horrible ratings on Showtime and had very little negative effects on the Bellator ratings of the same night.
2. The UFC has the power to kill Bellator ratings - The UFC Fight Night on Spike and a UFC Pay Per View caused Bellator to suffer heavily in the ratings department, delivering their worst and 3rd worst ratings in the history of their MTV2 partnership.
3. Versus was a horrible home for MMA - The UFC on Versus 6 card under-delivered on two avenues: General ratings and damaging Bellator ratings. As the two previous weekends showed, a UFC card on the same night can easily steal the spotlight and do a lot of harm to Bellator's ratings. But on Versus, there was virtually no noticeable damage done to the ratings. On top of that, taking any Bellator 'damage' out of the equation, the ratings are just plain not good on their own.
Yes, they were the best UFC Versus ratings of 2011, and the fact that over the course of 2011 the ratings steadily increased for each card is a good thing. But when a down-talked Fight Night on Spike is pulling 1.8 million viewers and a free UFC title fight on Versus is pulling .79 million viewers....that's a problem.
Strikeforce's brand power is dying, and Bellator has absolutely nothing on the UFC.
The UFC should be happy that it is never going to have to waste time on a Versus card ever again. Versus as a channel is already weaker by design then Spike, as it is in roughly 75 million households to Spike's 100 million. But beyond that, a card like Versus 6 should not be doing THAT much worse then a card like Fight Night 25.
Versus was plain and simple a marked step down in reach and popularity from Spike. It is a shame that the UFC was wasting their stronger free cards on an inferior channel. The 6 Versus cards would have done excellent on Spike. Luckily for the next 7 years, outside of 4 annual cards on Fox, FX will be the home of The Ultimate Fighter, The Ultimate Finales, and 6 other free events a year. FX is a step above Spike in almost the same way that Spike is a step above Versus.
So long Versus, good luck with the whole 'NBC Sports' thing, you now have 0 programming that interests me...good riddance.