When the UFC announced their huge deal with Fox it came with a great sense of accomplishment. This was MMA finally hitting the big time, without a doubt it was a huge opportunity. Amidst all of the high-fiving and bro-hugging, however, questions lurked. Most fans assumed it meant more UFC cards...but I'm sure some were concerned about just how it would shake out. With Dana White's talk of '34 events', some had to be concerned if there would be an increase in the number of Pay Per View events we'd be expected to buy, or if the PPV number would stay the same, while having a load of extra shows thrown on top of that.
To become a 'mainstream' sport that everyone watches, you can't charge the fanbase 50$ a month, sometimes twice a month to see half of the content. That's the type of strategy that ultimately puts a cap on growth.
Luckily, judging from the schedule so far...the UFC seems to be trending towards what plenty of fans, myself included, thought would be the better move for long term growth: More free events, fewer Pay Per Views. Breakdown beloy
Part One: More Free Events
In 2011, as far as free UFC events went, we were given a grand total of 11 free cards. This broke down to 6 on Spike(3 Fight Nights, 2 Ultimate Finales, and 1 numbered event) 4 on Versus and 1 on Fox.
In addition to that, we were given 16 Televised Preliminary specials, this broke down to 13 2-fight, 1 hour segments on Spike and 3 3-4 fight segments on Ion
In 2012, we are going to get a total of 18 free cards. This breaks down to 8 on FX(6 Fight Nights and 2 Ultimate Finales) 6 on Fuel, and 4 on Fox.
On the matter of prelims, it seems that every Fox, PPV, and FX event will be getting a televised prelim special. Fox and FX cards have prelim specials on Fuel, while Pay Per Views have prelim specials on FX. So essentially, every card that isn't on Fuel gets televised prelims. On top of that, instead of the 1 hour 2-fight length of Spike prelims, FX prelim specials run double, 4 fights across 2 hours.
So going forward, we'll have a marked increase in the number of free events and a large increase in the number of free, televised preliminary fights. The more free fights there are on TV, the more chances of a great fight catching the eyes of more people.
Part Two: Fewer Pay Per Views
This really is the most important part. More free UFC cards will always be great...but fans are still out just as much money if we are shelling out just as many times as usual for PPVs in a year. More free content makes the percentage of 'bought' UFC content less...but the raw numbers of how much money fans spend would still ultimately be the same.
But looking at the layout of the first five months, it seems like the UFC might be starting to scale back their PPVs.
From January-May of 2011, there were 6 PPVs in 5 months. 1 in January, 2 in February, 1 in March, 1 in April, and 1 in May.
In the same time-frame in 2012, there will be 5 PPVs in 5 months. 1 in Jan, 2 in Feb, 0 in March, 1 in April, and 1 in May.
Of course, the UFC may overload the schedule later and make up for the 'lost PPV' but I happen to think they won't. On top of that, plenty of people might say 'wow, 1 less PPV isn't that big of a deal dude'...but extrapolate it over 12 months. Last year, there were 16 PPVs in 12 months...that's 1 1/3rd a month. Could you imagine if that number was down to 12? The UFC is on pace to average 1 PPV a month this year.
This is absolutely a good thing. For starters, the pockets of the devoted fans are pinched a bit less. But beyond that, the buying customers have less PPVs to choose from, plenty of people likely pick and choose which PPVs are worth buying. When there are less PPVs to divide the cash amongst, there is a greater chance of more fans who buy EVERY PPV...increasing the base number is more important than squeezing what you can from viewers with more paid events.
I for one am happy going forward knowing that the UFC might be giving the MMA community more and asking for less over the next 7 years.