I starting thinking about writing this post when I saw the poster for the impending disaster of a show (from a PPV buy perspective) that is UFC 147 (Belfort v Silva). I'm on the record saying that I will be stunned if this card does over 150K PPV buys.
This was followed by the news that now UFC 150 in Denver has lost it's headlining fight because Frank Edgar has a broken nose and he will not be ready until September. 150 is one of those milestone numbers that I would think UFC would be trying to make a major card out of, but it looks like they will be scrambling to just book a headliner to lock in the hardcore fans. The answer for who will headline this card is not an easy one, because most of the champs are booked (JDS 146, Silva 148, Aldo 149, Jones 151, Bendo Sept), or injured (Cruz, GSP). As much of a Frank Edgar fan that I am, I would have told him... sorry you can't fight in August, you can get the winner of Bendo/Diaz sometime in November. I have no doubt if UFC called Nate Diaz today that he would be ready to go. Diaz is coming off a great performance, and if he were to get in the cage with Bendo I think it would be a fight of the year candidate. It will be interesting to see what UFC tries to do with this card.
Throw into this mix a dramatic drop in ratings on the latest UFC on FOX event that did not have the strongest names to headline it, and from my prospective it looks like UFC has over-extended itself. I know that this show had some serious NBA/NHL playoff competition, but if UFC wants to be one of the big boys it should be able to hold its own. They are doing more shows than ever before these days, and have not developed the headlining names to bring in the casual fans. The next UFC on FOX is scheduled in early August and as of right now has Brian Stann v Hector Lombard as the main event. Do not get me wrong this an awesome fight, and no hardcore fan is going to miss it, but does the casual fan even know enough about Hector Lombard to watch when it is free? Is their memory of Brian Stann as the War hero smashing people, or the guy who got owned by Chael Sonnen? You can’t make future stars if nobody is watching.
UFC needs more headliners, and they need them now. I sit here still stunned that they are going to let Carlos Condit sit on the sidelines and wait until November while there are challengers (Hendricks, Ellenberger, Kampmann) that they could match him with to help bolster upcoming cards. I was also surprised to see that UFC did not learn the lessons of the SF HW grand prix, and institute a reserve bout for their Flyweight mini-tourney. UFC thought it had taken the steps to prevent a draw, but what if one of the winners had broken his hand like Daniel Cormier, or blows out a knee. If the Johnson/McCall winner cannot fight in August on either UFC 150, or UFC on FOX 4, then UFC should match Benavidez with John Dodson for the title. Benavidez has many of the makings of a star. He is fun to watch, can draw in the Hispanic demographic, and while not the greatest, he is comfortable in front of a microphone and camera from his time in WEC and UFC. Even with a Condit, or Benavidez fight on these cards it will not secure the Casual viewing public, but at a minimum it will make sure the Hardcore, and semi-Hardcore base is satisfied to keep the ratings from bottoming out too low fan
I love this sport, and I think that the potential is there for it to be the Biggest Sport in the world that Dana White wants it to be. That leaves me wondering why UFC cannot get headliners that have enough name value to deliver good ratings on Free TV. I'm going to go back to something I wrote in a post just over a week ago, and that is I think UFC has really blown it with TUF since Season 5. The first 5 seasons produced guys who could legitimately headline UFC cards, some PPVs (Forrest, Rashad, Serra (for a brief moment)) others free shows (Bonnar, Florian, Koscheck, Sanchez, Leben, Jardine, Stevenson, Guillard, Bisping, Hamill, Lytle, Maynard, Diaz , hell even Joe Lauzon has had his name at the top of a Fight Night poster). Since season 5, only Roy Nelson proved to be a guy that could headline a card, and do OK. UFC's star of today and tomorrow is Jon Jones, but the biggest complaint about him is that he seems fake. If UFC had figured out how to get him on to TUF, it is really hard to be fake for 8 weeks with cameras following their every move. People would get to know these guys and always be able to reference that Chris Leben, or Josh Koscheck moment.
UFC has also focused so much on promoting the brand that they need a shift in marketing to move to the fighters. The NBA in the 80's (Bird, Magic, Jordan, Ewing) learned that they needed to market their stars, and business took off. They have been following this lesson ever since. The NFL has picked up on it with the star QB's of today being the consummate superstar. No one cares if the left guard might be the best player at his position in football, it will be the QB that is talked about before the game, and interviewed after. UFC for years needed to market their brand, because they had serious competitors (PRIDE, Affliction, EliteXC, Strikeforce) that could offer competitive salaries, but that period of history is over for now. It is time for UFC to market the stars heavily. I love what they did with Jon Jones before UFC 145, but I really think they should start making the poster's with Jones' name even bigger, and UFC even smaller. Make sure that the casual fan knows he is watching the great Jon Jones. How many fans could tell you what belt Floyd Mayweather was fighting for this weekend, my guess is not many, but they knew that Floyd was fighting. The sport of MMA is already referred to by most people as UFC, so mission accomplished on branding the product, now focus on the stars.
UFC is a global brand, but the last time I saw an article on the topic, 80% of UFC's revenue came from North America. This presents a problem for UFC when 3 of 7 Champions, and numerous other top 10 fighters are from Brazil and at best have broken English. Despite being nothing short of Awesome, Anderson Silva, and Jose Aldo have failed to catch on with UFC fans as PPV draws to this point. The verdict is still out on JDS, but I have a feeling that he will be a better draw than Aldo, but less than what most fans feel he should be. To me though it looks like a sponsorship opportunity. I would try to get Rosetta Stone, or any other language system on board to teach these guys English. I'd also offer these guys big bonuses for their levels of proficiency at speaking English.