Is UFC in for Rough Summer on PPV?

LAS VEGAS - MAY 29: UFC fighter Rashad Evans (L) battles UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (R) during their Light Heavyweight fight at UFC 114: Rampage vs. Rashad at the MGM Grand Hotel on May 29, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa, LLC via Getty Images) (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)

Earlier today, the incomparable Mike Fagan wrote about how Brock Lesnar's illness is going to put the UFC's pay-per-view growth in jeopardy. Well, that's not the only problem the UFC is going to have from a business perspective this year.

Dating back to 2006, the May-August corridor has done absolutely gangbuster numbers for the UFC on pay-per-view. Let's take a look in a Fagan-esque chart (data via Dave Meltzer):

Year Events Buys Average
2006 3 1.895M 631,667
2007 4 1.82M 455,000
2008 4 1.855M 463,750
2009 5 3.88M 776,000
2010 6 4.42M 736,667

It should be noted that 2007 and 2008 were dragged down by two European pay-per-views that did absolutely no business whatsoever (nor were expected to) and those greatly skewed the average.

As you can see, the UFC has exploded during this May-August corridor the last few years and it's been the summer months, featuring hot fights and big shows, that have carried the company's pay-per-view numbers for the year.

Unfortunately for the UFC, even before news broke of Brock Lesnar's illness yesterday, that will not be the case this year. Let's examine why:

  • UFC 130 was going to struggle before losing the Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard main event. Their fight at UFC 125 did the lowest number for a title fight in about five years at 270K (fortunately for them, that won't stand for much longer, but I'll get to that here shortly) and the way the hype was developing (or not developing) for this one, it stood to have only marginal gains due to a better supporting cast, but nothing above 350K. This show is going to show the true drawing power of Quinton Jackson, that's for sure. If this one can finish around that 350K mark, it will be an incredible feat. I'd go around 300K for this one. Of all the shows I'm about to list, I feel like I could be underestimating this one the most.
  • UFC 131 went from a card that would probably do in the 700K-900K buy range with Lesnar to one, because of a weak-drawing supporting cast, that will do 300K. That is a huge drop-off for the UFC. Outside of headliners Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin, there is not a single fighter on that card who is going to make a difference from a business perspective. Lesnar pulling out spells doom for this show on pay-per-view. Carwin drew with Lesnar because that was a great combination and storyline, but it's tough to see he and dos Santos doing much business.
  • UFC 132, much like UFC 130, is a tremendous card for the hardcore fan. Unfortunately, the bantamweight title (and champion Dominick Cruz) means nothing to the type of fans who make or break these pay-per-view numbers and nobody else on this show, other than possibly Tito Ortiz, is going to move the needle one bit. And at this point, Ortiz's days as a draw are probably over, considering he has not won since 2006. The hardcore fans will be pumped and hyped for this show, and it looks like the type of card that will deliver, but cards draw based on the main event and this one isn't going to do it. Cruz has not really been introduced to the UFC's audience and is a total nobody right now. Faber's performance in his sole UFC fight was too workman-like to be inspiring. I would be shocked if this show didn't break UFC 125's mark as the least-bought title fight in recent UFC history. I'm pegging this at the absolute high end at 300K, but in all likelihood, this one ends up around 250K.
  • UFC 133 isn't going to fare very well either. There's been talks of a featherweight title bout between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes on this show and, well, that's not going to make too much difference. Against the right opponent, Rashad Evans can be a huge draw. Unfortunately for the UFC, Phil Davis, like Thiago Silva (who Evans drew 300K with at UFC 108), isn't going to be that opponent. This show just doesn't feature anyone who is going to move the needle past 350K.
  • UFC 134, in Rio, is going to be interested. From the card alone, if it does feature Forrest Griffin against Mauricio Rua in addition to Anderson Silva against Yushin Okami, would be the UFC's best bet for a decent number this summer. The only problem is that cards not originating in North America have historically not done well on pay-per-view. The last, UFC 127, clocked in at 270K and featured B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch. Prior to that, an absolutely stacked card in Abu Dhabi did just 500K. I think this one will land in between those two numbers, likely around 400K.
Based on my projections, this is not going to be a good summer for the UFC. My predictions have the UFC selling around 1.6M pay-per-views for their five events this summer. In comparison, UFC 100 alone sold 1.6M pay-per-views. Even if Lesnar didn't have to bow out, this summer still would've marked a deep departure from the standards the UFC had been setting during this corridor.

I'm very curious to see how this summer transpires from this standpoint. Right now, it doesn't look good, but the UFC sometimes has tricks up their sleeves that change things. As it stands right now, though, it's not looking promising.
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