August 18th, 2010 - WEC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz makes a title defense against Joseph Benavidez on Versus.
October 1st, 2011 - UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz makes a title defense against Demetrious Johnson on Versus.
What's wrong with this picture, folks? A whole lot.
As your resident WEC homer, I argued against the UFC/WEC merger from day one. I believed that the merger was done simply so the UFC had two more belts to prop up pay-per-views with. I believed that the 135 and 145 divisions didn't have the foundation yet to stand upright in an organization that was now promoting seven divisions. I didn't even believe that the WEC guys were going to get the big paydays that they richly deserved once they donned UFC gloves. I was the definition of a contrarian. And eight months after Fredson Paixao and Pablo Garza stepped into the cage at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale to kick off a newer, lighter era of the UFC -- well, I feel the exact same way about everything. And I now have stats to back it up.
In the two parts of this piece, I'll make a case that shows that merger hasn't been all sunshine and puppies so far. I'll show that the divisions aren't being promoted correctly, that the fighters aren't benefiting to the degree that most expected, and even that the network that hosted the WEC, Versus, might have got shafted by the deal they shook hands on to make this whole thing possible. Today in part one, we'll start out by looking at the mediums that BW/FW fights are being shown on, and I'll explain why Facebook isn't the gold mine some people think it is.
Item 1 - The featherweight and bantamweight divisions aren't getting enough TV/PPV time.
The UFC has promoted 180 fights spread over 16 cards since the merger. Ten of those 16 cards have been PPV's. Here's how the number of fights breaks down by division, and by what medium each fight was broadcasted on. Note: "Streamed" covers Facebook, Youtube, and UFC.com streams of fights.
The data from the chart here should be pretty easy to figure out. A total of three bantamweight fights and two featherweight fights were scheduled for PPVs over the last 10 PPV events. That's less than half of every other division, and in some cases less than 20% of what other divisions are getting. Is that any way to promote new divisions? And they want to add a flyweight division in the near future as well?
Fine, you say, they'll put them on TV instead. That works too, lots of people watch Spike TV prelims. Except for the fact that the numbers above show that these divisions aren't getting enough TV slots either. Two bantamweight fights scheduled for TV from the 47 available slots? Really guys?
It should be noted that some fights aren't scheduled for TV or PPV, but end up getting shown anyway. 3 BW fights and 4 FW fights not originally scheduled to air did make TV or PPV in some form. 6 of the 7 came from previously-aired streams, one was previously unaired. For comparison's sake, 15 fights across the other divisions made it as well. The points I address in part two tomorrow (namely money and sponsorship) make these bumps moot, however.
Item 2: Sorry guys, being on Facebook isn't all it's cracked up to be.
I know some of you are ready to skip down to the comment section and mash away on your keyboard. "But Tim, they're being shown on Facebook! They're still getting exposure! Stop complaining!" A quick perusal of that chart I posted above shows that the UFC is indeed putting a lot of bantamweight and featherweight fights on Facebook. When the UFC started broadcasting fights on Facebook I was deliriously happy, much as you were. Hardcore fans like us get to watch every fight! Awesome! Except for one small thing - we're generally the only ones watching.
I know this is a bit of a bubble-burster, but I've talked to a few people that know the ins and outs of how this stuff works (including UFC employees, off the record of course). And they all imply the same thing - the Facebook audience is small. Surprisingly small. They can't give any hard numbers, but they will say that the Facebook audience is a very small percentage of the TV or PPV audience. And it makes total sense.
Think about it - when a fight is on Spike/Ion, a few people can sit around a TV and watch. Casuals get involved at some level in that example. Are a few people sitting around your computer watching a stream? No, it's usually just one person. No one is sitting at the bar and magically notices a Facebook steam being shown there. No one is flipping channels at home and magically comes across a stream either. People have to seek out the platform and jump through hoops to watch. And the general public just isn't doing that in droves.
So, let's get this straight. The UFC is choosing to lean on this platform as a way to promote these two divisions? How is it going to work? The main audience is people like us, the biggest fans of the sport. And we don't matter to the bigger picture, because we're watching no matter what. How do you get the general public to care about 135 and 145 if they're not being watched by the general public? While Facebook is better than nothing, in many ways it's exactly the same as nothing. I'll address a few of those ways in part two.
In the next edition of Death to the Merger, I'll come at you with three more points that you'll probably get mad at me about. First and foremost, I'll discuss how WEC guys aren't getting the riches that fans expected them to once the merger went down. Second, I'll show the optimists that the next four months aren't going to be any rosier than the last eight for these guys. And finally, I'll show you that the platform the WEC relied on, Versus, didn't get what they expected out of the merger either. Stay tuned, and sharpen up those pitchforks.