The UFC and Fox Sports signed an epic seven-year deal late in 2011 to broadcast UFC programming on three networks: Fox, FX and Fuel TV. Now that the deal is a little more than two quarters old, MMA Payout has graded it component by component.
First off they note that the UFC has been a huge win for Fuel TV, helping it become the fastest growing cable network of 2012. However they also note that it only reaches 36 million households and that it has limited promotional utility for the UFC due to its small size. Presumably the dramatically improved ratings will help Fox get Fuel carried on more cable packages in 2013.
Here is what Payout had to say about the Fox and FX deals:
FOX is doing a great job at exposing the UFC product to the masses, but the last event was actually a big drop-off from the first event as every fight went to a decision and almost tripled the length of UFC on FOX 1. Not to mention that four shows a year is just not enough frequency for the casuals. Getting mainstream sponsors for the FOX events has also not been as easy as was expected when the deal was made last year. The ratings drop of the second show caused for the UFC to create "fun and exciting" match-ups for UFC on FOX 3 rather than book big names in hope that casuals will tune in and stick around for "fan-friendly" and exciting booked fights.
FX and the newly revamped "TUF Live" were a big part of the TV deal with TUF being the key platform the UFC uses to create future stars and PPV draws. So far, the show has been a disappointment (in terms of ratings) with all-time rating lows for the series. Dana White and the UFC brass predicted that they could very well reach 3 million viewers for TUF on FX if they were getting around 1.5 million on Spike TV without any promotion. Well, that prediction hasn't panned out yet, even with heavy promotion leading up the the debut on FX. More shocking is that after UFC moved to FX, FX network's M18-34 and M18-49 demos have decreased compared to Q1 2011 while Spike's have gone up. FX dedicating Friday nights as "UFC Nights", a day which is notorious for bad ratings and when the M18-34 demographic is not at home in front of their TV sets, has also not panned out for the UFC yet. Moving the content to mid-week could be a solution, but FX is happy enough with the Friday night ratings since it's an improvement from what they get with non-UFC content, so it looks like the UFC will have to ride this out for the time being.
Clearly the UFC and Fox both have reasons to be happy about the deal and reasons to be frustrated. For Fox they have to be happy with the UFC's performance on Fuel TV. Unfortunately they have had a hard time finding sponsors for the UFC on Fox and the dramatic slide in ratings on both Fox and FX is definitely not good. Most shocking is the decline in the UFC's target demographic on FX. The network will likely need to budge on its insistence that Friday night is UFC night on FX.
For the UFC, having Fuel TV as virtually their own channel has allowed them to service their most hard-core fans (or that segment of their most hard core fans who can get Fuel TV) with a virtual UFC channel. Unfortunately they have a much reduced promotional reach with limited access to FX and very limited access to Fox. Their Primetime and Countdown specials (ads for their pay-per-views) are reaching significantly fewer people than they reached on Spike TV and that has to be hurting their PPV sales.
After the jump we'll look at their top line findings program by program.
Here are their top line findings, be sure and click over to MMA Payout for show-by-show ratings for each program:
UFC on FOX: Q2 Average: 2.4M; Q1 Average: 4.7M; Trend: Down
TUF LIVE: Q2 Average: 934,250; Q1 Average: 1.16M; Trend: Down
TUF Season Average (previous 5 seasons) on Spike TV: 1.84M Viewers
Spike TV Comparable Trend: TUF's debut on FX was lowest rated season in TUF history.
UFC on FX: Q2 Average:1.13M Q1 Average: 1.35M; Trend: Down
UFN Average (last 5 events) on Spike TV: 1.73M Viewers
Spike TV Comparable Trend: Down
UFC Primetime on FX: Q2 Average: 551,000; Q1 Average: 540,000, Trend: Up, flat
UFC Primetime Debut Episodes (last 5) Average on Spike TV: 933K Viewers
Spike TV Comparable Trend: Down
UFC on FX Prelims: Q2 Average: 1.29M; Q1 Average: 1.26M, Trend: Up, Flat
Previous 5 UFC Prelims Average on Spike TV: 1.34M Viewers
Spike TV Comparable Trend: Down, Flat
UFC on FUEL: Q2 Average: 185,000; Q1 Average: 217,000; Trend: Down
UFC on Fuel Prelims: Q2 Average: 112,000; Q1 Average: 135,000; Trend: Down