Despite Dana White's spin, Zuffa and Spike TV cannot be happy with the last week's ratings for the debut of the Ultimate Fighter. It's an atrocious number, falling short of even the most pedestrian of TUF seasons. This after sending former heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar on a late media blitz to hype up the show.
The numbers have caused many people to question Lesnar's ability to draw in a television audience following his loss to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121. While the loss (and moreso the manner in which he lost) will have a negative effect on his marketability, let's not forget that there are many variables at play here.
1. Moving the start time back to 9 p.m. ET. Moving a show around is always going to have an effect on the ratings, especially when the show has solidified itself in a time slot. In addition, the beginning of TUF now coincides with the end of American Idol (and also runs into the end of hockey, basketball, and baseball games). And while the American Idol audience doesn't overlap with the TUF audience, there are hordes of wives and girlfriends forcing their emasculated boyfriends to watch Steven Tyler embarrass himself each week.
2. No live event lead-in. Traditionally, the Ultimate Fighter debut is preceded by a live fight card on Spike. That was not the case for this season, despite the UFC airing a free event this Saturday prior. Did marketing research indicate that Lesnar would draw an audience on his own? Was Spike more concerned with using TUF as a lead-in for their new show, Coal?
3. Junior dos Santos is a coach. I'm sorry Hardcore MMA Fan, but the outside world doesn't know or care about Junior dos Santos. Look at the shows that he's fought on: UFC 90 (300,000 buys), UFC 95 (tape-delayed Spike show from Europe), UFC 103 (375,000 buys), UFC 108 (300,000 buys), UFC on Versus 1 (1.24 million viewers), and UFC 117 (600,000 buys). For the vast majority of the casual viewing public, dos Santos is a guy with a couple fights in the UFC who couldn't knock out the fat dude who beat Kimbo Slice.
Combine those three variables with a stale show format that hasn't changed drastically since its inception, and you have yourself a recipe for underperforming numbers.
I don't expect these numbers to change much over the course of the season. Without some crazy plot development (and nothing has been hinted or teased along those lines), we're not going to see a mid-season boost past a 1.5 rating. I'm not sure we're going to see a dropoff either, though, as I'm more inclined to believe that we're seeing a random fluctuation rather than the beginning of a long-term trend.
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There is one thing that I wanted to touch on from last week's episode. Was it necessary to show Shamar Bailey reading his Bible and talking about his faith, and then contrast that with Nordin Asrih describing how he prays five times a day? I don't care about what mythical figures these guys believe in, and I especially don't care to see a fight marketed as some sort of small-scale Holy war (however lazily done). The only thing I learned from that bit is that Mohammad never preached the benefits of takedown defense.
Click here for a sneak preview of this week's episode.