TUF 18 debuts to lowest series ratings ever, UFC Fight Night loses 300,000 viewers from week before

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The debut of The Ultimate Fighter on Fox Sports 1 featuring coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate and the first ever co-ed cast drew 762,000 viewers, by far the lowest season debut in the series' history. An hour earlier UFC Fight Night 28 drew just 539,000 viewers on the same network.

The numbers are out for Wednesday night's UFC programming on Fox Sports 1 and it ain't pretty. Dave Meltzer has the details at MMA Fighting.

First the facts:

September 4 Fox Sports 1

UFC Fight Night 28: Teixeira vs. Bader main card - 539,000 viewers

The Ultimate Fighter season 18 debut 762,000 viewers (The lowest-rated season opener previously, for season 16 coached by Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin, debuted at 947,000 viewers. That season aired on FX on Friday night.)

August 28 Fox Sports 1

UFC Fight Night 27: Condit vs. Kampmann 824,000 viewers

August 31 Fox Sports 1

UFC 164 prelims 809,000 viewers (UFC prelims had averaged 1.3 million on FX.)

August 17 Fox Sports 1

UFC Fight Night 27: Sonnen vs. Shogun 1,782,000 viewers

UFC president Dana White issued a statement clarifying the numbers:

We were #1 on all of cable with M18-34 and M18-49. We also beat the US Open and the Detroit vs Red Sox MLB game. This is all part of the building process. We've made a commitment to work with FOX to build this network. If you look at all of the other networks we've ever been on we consistently pull strong ratings. The first time we put our prelims on FX we pulled 880K viewers and it grew, depending on the fight, up to 1.9 million viewers for UFC 156. Also, the TUF season with Carwin and Big Country averaged 822K viewers then Jones vs Sonnen averaged 1.3 million viewers. We currently hold the top 4 most watched telecasts on FS1 since the network launched. To be honest, our Prelim and Fight Night numbers weren't bad considering we started on the west coast at 2pm in the afternoon on a Wednesday. The most important thing is last night's fights were awesome and this season of TUF is great. Yes, we didn't pull the 1 million + but we will. But, we also fucked up last night by not starting the main event later so that we could get a live lead into TUF. The bottom line is FOX couldn't be happier with the UFC and the ratings we're pulling. And we couldn't be happier with the way we've been treated by the network.

Meltzer also had some analysis:

The reality is that it's going to take time to build the station. The exceptional first night now looks like it was an aberration and not an indication of what UFC shows are going to be able to pull on a regular basis. While the station is building, UFC's viewing numbers are likely to be significantly lower for the major TV live cards and TUF episodes than any time in the group's television history.

The Brazil show was barely ahead of a March show on Fuel featuring Brian Stann vs. Wanderlei Silva from Japan that did 485,000 viewers. What makes that notable is that Fuel only reached 37 million homes at the time while Fox Sports 1 reaches 89 million homes.

With the exception of Fuel shows, it was, by a significant amount, the least-watched live UFC card since it first got on national television in 2005.

MMA Payout commented:

How many hours of UFC programming did you watch Wednesday? Of the 8 hours, it's likely that the most scrutinized was the TUF debut as it pulled out all the stops for this season with men and women in the house and the Rousey-Tate feud. The women fights were the most compelling. Also, having the fighters meet their families before the fights were a nice touch to add drama. FS1 even aired an hour special for Ronda Rousey the day before the TUF debut. Yet, it opened with the lowest rating ever for TUF. MMA Fighting chalks it up to growing pains for a new network. While this might be believable, its hard to explain the 1.72 million viewer debut of the UFC on FS1's first day. Perhaps its the 8 hours of programming which caused TUF's low rating as that many hours of MMA would cause fatigue for any MMA fan. Will TUF gain momentum or will we see another TUF season reaching new viewership lows?

To sum up, White and Meltzer are right that this is part of the growing pains of moving to a brand new channel. Unfortunately the numbers on Fox Sports 1 are a dramatic drop from the numbers they were drawing on FX which in turn are a dramatic drop from the numbers they drew on Spike TV.

The UFC business model depends on a robust cable TV offering to promote their pay-per-view products and build stars. While they will be rewarded by Fox for helping build their ambitious new cable sports network, the reality is they will quite possibly take a hit on PPV for the foreseeable future as the network builds.

Meltzer added more perspective in the Wrestling Observer (subscription required):

The answer is that there is so much UFC, that people are going to find the big stuff, and if it's not big, they'll skip it because there is too much content to try and keep up with. But even at these depreciated levels, it's a big success for a station struggling to find its calling. And UFC is holding up a whole lot better than boxing, which debuted with a Golden Boy promotions show to 156,000 viewers going head-to-head with Raw on 8/19. And that number in no way means boxing is dying, just that boxing fans are not going to watch secondary fights.

Essentially, and this is an inevitable product, the base audience for the non top-tier shows, for both TV and PPV, has declined significantly. Whether it will continue a trend that has been going on for years, or will reverse with the idea their audience will grow as FS 1 grows, is the million dollar question.

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