Yesterday, MMAJunkie.com, citing industry sources, reported that the UFC's debut on Fox snagged a peak viewership of 8.8 million viewers, surpassing Kimbo Slice's historic peak of 6.51 million viewers at EliteXC: Primetime in May of 2008. As expected, many fans jumped the gun on what these numbers actually mean. Similarly to Sunday's news that the UFC pulled in 5.7 million viewers on average throughout the one-hour broadcast, the reaction was the complete opposite of what more informed fans and analysts felt were the actual takeaways from the news.
The details surrounding the numbers spotlight a solid argument that casual sports' fans were curious to see Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos walk the walk, but not talk the talk. According to a report from SI.com, the broadcast began at 5.2 million viewers, but steadily lost viewers during the half-hour leading up to the fight, which included interviews cut from UFC Primetime: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos. Viewers tuned out only a few minutes after the sixty-four second knockout, dropping off an estimated 2.9 million viewers to 5.9 million viewers.
What exactly can we glean from those statistics? Fans tuned in to see the action, but the long-winded analysis, interviews, and stories weren't sought out by fans. Why? Because those pre-fight packages didn't include the very thing that fans were tuning in to watch -- the violence, i.e. entertainment, that live MMA provides.
The disconnect between the reaction and the reality of the reports is that a peak number of 8.8 million viewers means nothing in the span of only three or four minutes. Advertisers are the paying customers while the product's goal is to entice viewers, maintain their attention, and give advertisers an audience. The UFC's debut on Fox fulfilled that goal, bringing in a reported average of 5.7 million viewers. During that very small bump in viewers, however, the only advertisers "winning" were those who had logos on the mat or around the Octagon.
Most of those advertisers aren't paying over $100,000 per thirty-second spot. The advertisers who are saw no benefit to the event lasting only sixty-four seconds, which leads to a conclusion that the UFC and Fox need to find a way to heighten the average over a longer period of time. Casual sports' fans are curious about the UFC, but if you can't maintain their attention -- where's the benefit to advertisers?
UFC ringside commentator Mike Goldberg confirmed with MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani during Monday's MMA Hour that the UFC will, in fact, run with a two-and-a-half hour broadcast for their next show. With the correct promotion and match-ups, the event could reach the goal of a higher, prolonged average viewership number. If they can pull off a larger average, it could go a long way to the UFC's product gaining more lucrative advertising dollars, higher-profile sponsors, and more prominence.
Peak ratings are really nothing more than a barometer for what exactly interests the demographic the product is trying to lure. In this case, we already knew what that was. When Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos touched gloves, 8.8 million people were fixated on the combat that was about to unfold in the cage. During a schoolyard fight, when do the most people rush to the action to get a glimpse? When the fists start flying.
The grandiose reaction to the news by many fans reeked of misinformation. I doubt those fans were celebrating the fact that the UFC had just obtained a vital piece of information to a puzzle that many sports haven't been able to solve. For many of those fans, the puzzle had been solved.
In reality, the valuable information gleaned from the numbers will help the UFC strategize and pull in bigger numbers in the future. Let's not sensationalize what an 8.8 million viewer peak means for the UFC and the sport. It doesn't mean much when it lasts only sixty-four seconds.