TV Ratings Show UFC's Utter Dominance of MMA Landscape

If Tito Ortiz had stayed on the card would the numbers have been even better?

Now that the UFC's parent company Zuffa -- I mean Zuffa spin-off Forza, LLC -- has purchased Strikeforce -- the UFC's only major competitors are M-1 Global with their Showtime deal and Bellator on MTV2. This past weekend gave us a rare chance to see all three promotions competing for eyeballs as M-1 Global put a show on the air Friday and both Bellator and the UFC had live fights on cable on Saturday. 

The ratings are in and unless you're Zuffa, it's not pretty.

First the UFC per MMA Mania:

UFC Fight Night 24: "Nogueira vs. Davis," which marked the promotion's first foray into "The Evergreen State," reeled in an average audience of 2.2 million viewers on Spike TV, according to figures released from the cable television network earlier today.

The live broadcast (on the east coast) peaked with 2.4 million viewers during the co main event between welterweights Anthony Johnson and Dan Hardy (at 11:15 p.m.), ranking as the number one program on cable for the entire day for men aged 18 to 34 and 18 to 49.

In fact, "Nogueira vs. Davis," which was held at the Key Arena in Seattle, Wash., on March 26, 2011, was the most-watched UFC Fight Night since the "Diaz vs. Guillard" event in Sept. 2009.

By comparison, UFC Fight Night 23: "Fight for the Troops 2" was viewed by an average of 1.85 million fight fans earlier this year, while the UFC Fight Night 22: "Marquardt vs. Palhares" Spike TV telecast scored an average of 1.6 million viewers back in Sept. 2010.

The only bad news in the above is that the ratings peaked before the end of the night -- meaning that Anthony Johnson's dominating performance against Dan Hardy chased off viewers who didn't stay around to see top contender Phil Davis.

Dave Meltzer commented on the show's performance in The Wrestling Observer (subscription required):

The crowd was hot for much of the show, but television saw two very good matches followed by two matches that were flat, so it was a thumbs in the middle type of production.
The show did a 1.5 rating and 2.2 million viewers. With a lineup that didn't look great for ratings on paper, and moving from a 9 p.m. start to a 10 p.m. start, ending at 12:13 a.m. this may be evidence the later time is better for UFC. It's well what Spike live shows have been doing (1.26 average last year) and that surprised me because I didn't see Phil Davis vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira as anything strong, but they opened strong so it could be interest in the Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung rematch and they peaked for Dan Hardy vs. Anthony Johnson, falling a little for the main event.

Unlike the usual Fight Night pattern which starts low and grows, peaking at around 11 p.m., this was solid from start-to-finish, staying almost even from start-to-finish. Hardy and Johnson, who both said beforehand they were the fight people wanted to see, got satisfaction in the sense the show peaked at 2.4 million viewers for their fight. It appears you may lose some viewers after 11:30 or so with the late start, but you more than make up for it with much stronger early numbers at 10 than 9. The show did a 2.30 in Males 18-34 and 2.10 in Males 35-49, both of which are strong. It was the most-watched show on cable television in both of those demos the entire day.

Poor little Bellator tried to get out of the way of the elephant by moving their show earlier so as not to go head to head with the UFC. MMA Junkie has the details:

Bellator ratings dipped for a second week, and this past weekend's Bellator 38 event drew a season-low 150,000 viewers on MTV2.
A replay of Bellator 38 that aired at midnight ET/PT drew 97,000 viewers.

The first-run season-four ratings include:
Bellator 35 ratings: 200,000 viewers
Bellator 36 ratings: 230,000
Bellator 37 ratings: 173,000
Bellator 38 ratings: 150,000

Bellator 39, which features a stacked card including lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez defending his belt against tournament winner Pat Curran and undefeated welterweight Rick Hawn bringing his Olympic-caliber Judo against former champ Lyman Good

Bellator needs to turn those ratings around quick. Viacom may be keeping them around as an insurance policy against the UFC leaving Spike, but they have to show they're viable cable programming.

Zach Arnold comments:

The obvious point to make regarding Bellator's ratings on MTV2 is that the idea of moving the show around on Saturday nights and not having a consistent timeslot because you want to avoid running head-to-head against Zuffa is a bad idea. Yes, people who watch Bellator are aware of what is happening with the UFC. However, you can't confuse your fans and make it a struggle for them to figure out when to tune in, how to find you on their DVR, so on and so forth. If accessing your show becomes any sort of challenge or requires any sort of effort (Americans can be lazy), it will hurt the ratings. If you're a half-glass full person, I suppose you can say that Bellator retained 75% of their viewers despite the moving time slot.

As for M-1 Global on Showtime, MMA Junkie has those ratings too:

M-1 Global's first-ever Showtime-broadcast event drew 189,000 viewers to the premium cable channel.
While demographic data was not immediately available, the figure represents a 0.52 household rating.

M-1 exec Evgeni Kogan spoke to MMA Junkie before the event about his hopes for the show:

"We hope that our relationship with Showtime continues long-term regardless of the Strikeforce purchase," Kogan said. "The U.S. is 'the' market to compete in for MMA, and (Showtime executive) Ken Hershman has been vocal about having Showtime televise quality cards showcasing top prospects and lesser-known international stars.

"The M-1 Challenge fits this mold perfectly, and we're excited to be associated with such an incredible partner."
"The main goal of this event is to showcase exciting, entertaining fights so we make a positive impact with fans and continue to build awareness and popularity inside the U.S and around the world," Kogan said.

The Zuffa purchase of Strikeforce does give M-1 Global a little bit of breathing room as Showtime won't want to have all their eggs in one basket, but it will be critical for M-1 to start developing starts ASAP. heavyweight champ Guram Gugenishvili (11-0) and welterweight champion Shamil Zavurov (14-1) seem to be their brightest prospects right now.

SBN coverage of UFC Fight Night 24: Phil Davis vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

SBN coverage of Showtime Presents M-1 Challenge

SBN Coverage of Bellator 38

SBN coverage of Bellator 39

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