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Is Spike TV Sabotaging the UFC's Ratings?

The recent spate of weak TV ratings for UFC programming on Spike TV has had some commenters questioning everything about the UFC's approach. We've questioned the star value of Brock Lesnar after the weak debut of The Ultimate Fighter season 13. We've questioned the stale, tired format of the Prime Time series after St. Pierre vs Shields was a bust in its debut. Geno Mrosko has made some comprehensive recommendation for fixing TUF.

I first began to think there was something else involved after seeing these tweets from HDNet exec (and MMA Payout founder) Adam Swift:

TUF rating is all about time slot and lead-in. What was the rating for Coal? That's the show I saw cross channel promos for.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad Favorite Retweet Reply

The story of the Countdown rating is again the time slot, not the number, just like with TUF.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Seeing Swift -- someone much smarter about the MMA biz than I am -- tweeting on this topic and then talking to a couple of other business insiders whose opinions I respect very much got me thinking.

While there's no doubt that TUF is stale beyond words and the Prime Time series is anything but scintillating, both shows had other things in common that hurt their ratings.

  • Time Changes
    The Ultimate Fighter ran an hour earlier than normal. Primetime ran an hour later. TV viewers are creatures of habit, moving old favorites around is a sure-fire way to lose viewers
  • Lack of Promotion
    The ads on Spike TV this year have been for things like their reality series Coal not for UFC related programming.
Both of these factors are completely within the control of Spike TV. 

Why would Spike TV sabotage the ratings for UFC programming? Simple their contract with the UFC is up at the end of the year. The weaker the ratings for UFC programming, the lower the asking price to renew the contract and the less attractive the UFC is to competing TV networks.

As an astute observer of capitalistic business practices -- V.I. Lenin -- once wrote: "follow the money." When you are curious about something in the business world, ask yourself who profits. That's your culprit. Spike TV stands to gain from lower UFC ratings. It's a risky business strategy, but might be preferable to losing a costly bidding war and watching your flagship programming leave the network.