Bloody Elbow Roundtable: Is UFC On FOX 5 Too Stacked?

August 11, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Benson Henderson fights Frankie Edgar (not pictured) during UFC 150 at the Pepsi Center. Photo: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Mookie Alexander: Given the state of the UFC's Pay-Per-View cards, most notably UFC 147, 149, and 150, and their push for main-event heavy cards like UFC 151 this September, fans are complaining about a watered down PPV product that is not worth the $55 anymore. But the UFC has responded with a tremendous trio of FOX fights, which include a title fight between Nate Diaz and Ben Henderson and two of the sport's brightest prospects facing off against legends of the sport (Mauricio Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson and B.J. Penn vs. Rory MacDonald). These are very big fights being given away on free TV, and almost certainly take away from future PPVs. So as asinine as the article title and topic at hand sounds (and probably is) from a fan viewpoint, is the UFC giving away too much for this FOX card at the expense of their PPVs?

George Halvatzis Jr.: If the UFC's recent FOX cards are any indicator, they're not going to make this a consistent thing. While this event will be good, I doubt they'll keep it up to a point where fans figure they don't have to buy any PPVs because they're getting the best fights free. Hopefully the quality of FOX fights are still good in the future, bug they won't be this good unless there is a dire need.

This will probably be a ratings bump for future Fox cards which will feature exciting up-and-comers. At least, that's what I'd prefer.

Fraser Coffeen: It's entirely possible that they are indeed giving away too much and it will hurt their PPV sales. But my honest response to that? Good. The UFC needs to move away from PPVs being the major way we see fights. I don't think they need to abandon PPVs entirely, but they need to be cut down and only be for truly "PPV quality" shows. Their recent shows have not been PPV quality on paper (whether they deliver or not on fight night is a different story), and it shows in the buys. Shows like 149 should be available for free. Could this Fox card be on PPV? Absolutely. But in the long run, I think making their product more easily accessible is the big goal to be chasing. Fox is massively, massively more accessible for the average fan that a PPV, but if you want to get those average fans, you have to give them a really good show sometimes too. Which is exactly what they're doing. So a thumbs up on this card from me.

Mike Riordan: I'd suppose the whole idea behind the free sample is tantalization. Whether in the case of video game demos or tiny plastic ice cream spoons, the free sample is meant to provide the smallest sample of a product necessary to convince a buyer to buy the whole thing.

When somebody gets that tiny lick of heavenly hash on the little pink spoon, they might be instantly convinced of the advantages of buying three scoops. But what if the ice-cream shop was getting paid large sums of money to use their free samples to provide advertising for the bagel shop up the street? Suddenly those little sample spoons become big sample spoons with "BOB'S BAGELS" written boldly on both the concave and convex sides. These big bagel spoons ultimately hurt ice-cream sales as the portions of ice cream they convey is large enough to satiate the sweet tooth of a decent percentage of potential paying customers.

This is the situation the UFC finds itself in. Its deal with Fox simultaneously commits itself too strongly to two incompatible business models. Fox's financial investment ultimately demands that the UFC provide too substantive a free sample. So long as the UFC must provide pay-per-view programming alongside Fox's advertising revenue-based programming, it will forever be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

T.P Grant: The problem here is that the UFC on Fox is not just a free sample of the UFC, they got paid a huge sum of money to put their product on Fox. They have to deliver a return on investment, so the UFC on Fox can't function as the UFC's own personal little infomercial. A yearly card in which the UFC gives out one title fight featuring a champion that is relatively unestablished is an excellent idea. It draws attention the card it wouldn't otherwise get because casual fans want to see title fights. The UFC is not losing money by putting this event on Fox as opposed to PPV and they are not debasing their PPV business by putting a title fight on network TV. This is going to be possibly the highest profile a UFC card has ever reached. We are going to be seeing ads all football season for this card, Fox will likely trot out Road to the Octagon's about Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz and the UFC will be pushing this card hard as well.

What this says to me is that normally the UFC on Fox is going to be a #1 contenders match that the UFC and Fox is content to let be an average TV sporting event in terms of ratings, but once a year or so they want to really turn up the volume and hold a big show.

Fraser (to Mike): But if you own both the Bagel Shop and the Ice Cream shop, why is this bad?

Mike (to Fraser): In my analogy, which is tortured, the bagel shop represents fox's client advertisers

More discussion after the jump.

David Castillo: I don't mind Dana's grandiose, sometimes bizaare claims that "MMA will be so popular, Tibetan monks will one day buy television sets just to ponder the meaning of a Jon Fitch fight", or whatever, and never understood the flack he got that went beyond "silly Dana". But I think we're seeing where part of that assumption in his thinking is becoming a liability.

I think Dana believed he didn't have to go all-in on FOX. He thinks his product will sell itself, and that the only thing the sport needed to become more popular than soccer in two easy steps was give MMA a wider audience. And that's simply not the reality of the situation. The UFC needs to think of FOX in the same way they thought of Spike, but with the muscle of PPV thinking behind it (or without, since the phrase 'PPV quality' is a hollow one these days).

There may or may not be a ceiling on how far MMA can go with a mainstream audience, but to reach that ceiling they've got to do more than assume the new viewers they're trying to reach will care about a non-title fight between a guy no one's ever heard of and a guy only the 209 cares about. That was a great fight on paper, but the casual viewer will only understand drama if something tangible is on the line, like a title.

For as much as MMA fans talk about the value of pro wrestling, and whatever spandex wisdom that can be gained from a Vince McMahon script, it's time to start thinking long term. Like 'X' says in JFK, people are fundamentally suckers for the truth. And the truth that MMA is a fantastic sport is on our side. With the Olympics still fresh in everyone's mind, it's time to start selling the sport. If moving just a few steps back away from PPV is a necessary first step (cutting down just a few while serving up cards like the next FOX), then so be it. UFC on FOX 5 is that card, and for once, I'm pumped for the whole thing. That's the feeling the UFC needs to get from new viewers.

Brent Brookhouse: There will be no abandoning of the PPV model any time soon. The model is still profitable, moreso than any other model they have available right now.

They've pulled bad ratings for two shows in a row, those were the product of bad decisions in matchmaking and bad date choices. They were able to succeed the same night as Pacquiao/Maquez because it was a single title fight on Fox which people could tune to and then go back to the boxing. They tried to do the same thing against a bigger show with a big undercard fight when they ran against Mayweather/Cotto and they got beat up bad, which wasn't helped by a weak (in terms of drawing power) main event. Then they tried to run a show against the Olympics with another weak drawing main event and pulled the same ratings.

I keep saying it, but the December date is as alone as they're ever going to be on network TV. There's not any football to go against that I'm aware of, there's no big boxing shows, the weather will have people indoors, a big movie opening won't be a good excuse. They HAVE to pull a big rating on this show due to the lack of competition, so they're putting together a big card with a title fight and some big names and good quality fights.

This is a move to get a big rating on a date where they have no excuse for failure. If it is how they're going to play it going forward? I don't know. But this one is set up for success and they're not risking inexcusable failure with another "trust me, these guys are good and can fight for a title" situation.

Mookie: Definitely agree with Brent. PPV isn't going away like it's some fad. While that market is pretty much a dead zone in Europe (at least from a sports perspective) it is still big and profitable in North America. The UFC knows that which is why they don't bother with PPV deals abroad.

What the UFC is learning is that their brand isn't worth jack in the ratings. Fighters are. Like virtually every other sport that isn't the NFL, the athletes are larger than the brand. The NBA brand suffers from Spurs vs. Nets Finals because they are small-market and aren't compelling. Same with MLB. Phillies vs. Yankees? Big World Series. Phillies vs. Rays? One of the worst World Series on record. But unlike the NBA or MLB, the UFC controls the matchups and there is no playoff system that could make them rich or send them into the cellar where the XFL ratings are.

If I were an MMA fan, I would root for this card to reach UFC 92 levels of amazing sprinkled with usual WEC excitement. And I hope FOX advertises this heavily during their NFL games (of which they'll have at least 8-10 weeks worth once this card is official) so that it is a wild success. A win for the UFC on December 8th is a win for the fan and if they don't budge that much in the ratings then expect Shogun vs. Vera cards to become the norm year-round.

Tim Burke: Why is everyone ignoring UFC on Fox 1? All the stuff you guys are talking about - giving away a big fight to attract more fans in the long run, not going all-in on Fox, and so on, they've already done when they gave away Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez for free. Did it work? Not really. They spiked an initial rating, but they've done dismally since due to some bad booking and unfortunate injuries. Giving away this title fight is not going to spike the rating back into JDS/Cain territory. Not even close. I don't care what you say about Diaz/Bendo as a draw, that's a profitable PPV headliner and giving it away for free is just total hotshot booking. It's lunacy.

If Fox stepped in and said "we want better fighters", cool. I understand that. I'm the one arguing that their cards AREN'T watered down, and everyone's cool with giving away a sure PPV headliner? They don't have that many PPV-headlining fights just kicking about. If they threw the flyweight title on Fox, I could maybe understand it. But the lightweight title? Nyet. Dumb.

Gus/Shogun and BJ/Rory are great Fox fights. But the card should be headlined by something like Griffin/Chael or Kampmann/Hendricks. Not a lightweight title fight.

Mookie: UFC on FOX 1 was highly-rated but poorly done on FOX's end. Guida vs. Henderson was on Facebook and basically they put in an hour-long broadcast with 64 second of fighting instead of 16 minutes and 4 seconds of entertainment. And isn't it ironic that Henderson is that he's now headlining on the very network that put his #1 contender fight on Facebook?

The unknowns about putting Guida/Henderson on TV really make it difficult for me to judge how FOX and the UFC would've done for their next few shows.

Chael vs. Forrest is definitely a good FOX fight in theory but let's not pretend Chael is an exciting fighter. There's a significant chance it ends up being a boring fight. Kampmann vs. Hendricks is also a great FOX fight but Hendricks was just on the lowest rated FOX card to date, and they're not proven casual draws. What gets the casual fan hooked are exciting fights featuring names they're familiar with. Diaz has been a free TV staple and so has Henderson, add in the title fight incentive with a strong supporting cast of Penn and Shogun and this card should do fantastic ratings.

If the purpose of FOX cards is to provide #1 contender fights, particularly in divisions with low drawing power like lightweight, they will remain in the 2-3 million bracket with few exceptions. Evans vs. Davis worked because Rashad was a big name. Diaz vs. Miller failed because no one knows who the hell Jim Miller is and they put zero marketing behind that card. I'm not a FOX exec, but I wouldn't be pleased if the UFC 148 preliminary card ratings on a cable channel like FX were nearly level with the ratings of a full main card with title implications on over-the-air "free" TV like FOX.

The UFC needed to do something to give themselves a boost, and this is it. Doing it once every four cards is just perfect. They're eating the PPV profits for the appeasement of their corporate partners, and I see no problem with it.
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