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Bloomberg details UFC’s struggles: ‘Without fresh talent, the UFC would be dying, not boxing’

According to Bloomberg, UFC plans to use boxing as a “lifeline” because of their recent struggles.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Bloomberg has decided to cover Mixed Martial Arts, with the outlet recently taking a look at the UFC’s recent struggles. The author, Brin-Jonathan Butler says that the UFC’s planned venture into boxing is to use the rival sport as a “lifeline”, as the MMA organization is “amid a talent exodus and ratings decline.”

He says that Dana White announcing a boxing venture only “confirmed what many insiders already knew: Without fresh talent, the UFC would be dying, not boxing.”

Bloomberg also interviewed a couple of people, who said that the UFC’s $4.2 billion sale may have been a terrible investment. Boxing author Thomas Hauser says the WME-IMG purchase is “starting to look like Time Warner’s decision to merge with AOL.”

Kurt Emhoff, a sports attorney who managed fighters from MMA and boxing, says that “the worst-case scenario is that they just bought Myspace.”

As for how they got to these pretty bleak conclusions, they cite an “erosion of viewers” with low TV ratings, an aging fanbase, and an “exodus” of stars.

Let’s take a look at these arguments, and how realistic they actually are.


2016 was a banner PPV year for the UFC, with five events going over a million buys. Bloomberg says it hasn’t been sustainable and low numbers after that shows it. They noted that the last UFC on FOX had the lowest viewers in history.

The author also concluded that boxing has “consistently higher ratings” than UFC events.

Manny Pacquiao & Jeff Horne Press Conference Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

They came up with this after comparing four Top Rank ESPN events that have gone head-to-head with UFC Fight Night cards on the same day. They note that boxing has come up with higher ratings, with the most recent comparison being ESPN’s Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux and Fox Sports 1’s UFC: Cub Swanson vs. Brian Ortega.

Bob Arum was also quoted gloating about how they “beat the pants off” the UFC on a “level playing field.”

Now, UFC numbers are indeed down compared to recent years in both TV ratings and PPV buys, but context to these arguments matter.

UFC on FOX’s lowest rated event was Jacare vs Brunson, which is also the weakest line up they’ve ever put on the network.

It’s also not a “level playing field” if you compare ESPN vs Fox Sports 1, and draw conclusions on a major event featuring two top pound-for-pound boxers “beating” a small UFC card topped by an unknown prospect and first time headliner.

Bloomberg notes that this “erosion of viewers” may lead to troubles securing a new TV lucrative deal that the UFC is looking for. We have yet to see how this plays out — especially if the UFC indeed has that large $450 million asking price — but with ratings down for most live sports, the market for a lucrative TV deal is indeed thin for anyone right now.


The post quoted Bob Arum saying “Boxing is not an old man’s sport. Our demographics are young.” As mentioned above, the Bloomberg article noted that boxing has come out on top on the key 18-49-year-old demographic during head-to-head events against the UFC.

They also cite a recent study featured on the Sports Business Journal, and state how the “median age of TV viewers who watch mixed martial arts increased the most, from 34 years old to 49 years old.”

Once again, context matters. This doesn’t necessarily mean the MMA audience “is getting older,” as they conclude. People who follow the sport, attend UFC shows, subscribe to Fight Pass, stream MMA events, and frequent this very site, won’t be mostly 49-year-olds.

These were TV-only numbers, with the actual study concluding that “nearly all sports see quick rise in average age of TV viewers as younger fans shift to digital platforms.”

This shift also seems more natural, as numbers have also shown that MMA generally has one of the biggest and most consistent web traffic and online presence in sports.

So can this affect a potential domestic TV deal for the UFC? Maybe. It’s yet to be seen, but this is also an issue being faced by all sports these days, with the younger fans seemingly more happy to just consume their content online.


Bloomberg mentions that the UFC is looking towards boxing because of their failure to make and keep stars.

“The UFC tend to kill their idols,” Emhoff said. “By having the best facing the best constantly, they are wearing out all of their top fighters.”

WWE Mae Young Classic Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for WWE

The article listed the UFC stars the promotion has lost recently:

“By 2017 the UFC had lost Ronda Rousey, a fighter who transcended combat sports and became one of the most famous faces in America. Anderson Silva and Jon Jones—arguably the two best MMA fighters in the history of the sport—have both tested positive for PEDs on multiple occasions. Brock Lesnar, another major attraction, has also tested positive more than once and joined Rousey in the WWE. George St-Pierre, one of the most popular MMA fighters, reemerged last year for one fight but is now out indefinitely with a case of colitis. (His pay-per-view numbers were south of 900,000 buys, well below projections.)”

It’s worth noting that Georges St-Pierre drawing 900,000 pay-per-view buys after being out for four years is a major success. It is indeed lower than White’s bold proclamations right after the contest, but it was certainly not below most people’s expectations coming into that event.

The author also calls Conor McGregor the “biggest threat” and “biggest potential” for the UFC, and quoted Emhoff as saying “going forward, it’s all pretty dependent on the new TV deal they negotiate and whether McGregor comes back to fight.”

It is true that the UFC’s lower pay-per-view buy rate is affected by the lack of legitimate draws as of late. It is also true that for them to put these numbers back up, they need a better way to build new stars — and probably pay McGregor enough to convince him to return.

That being said, these lower numbers have only meant somewhat lower revenue, not an absence of profit.


Bloomberg seemingly tried to paint a pretty grim picture of the UFC, showing how they’re struggling and might die if they don’t find new stars. The outlet did contact the promotion about these, but did the UFC do a good job of defending themselves? Based on the info that made it to the article, I’m not quite sure.

When addressing the organization’s popularity, UFC’s Thomas Gerbasi said “We’re rolling long. Look at Dana’s track record. He’s not a guy who says something and it doesn’t happen. He’s a man of his word, and the results speak for themselves.”

When talking about the 49-year-old median age, UFC claimed it was instead 39.

UFC also pointed out how they’re doing well in international markets such as Brazil and Poland. They also spoke about their Shanghai event that drew “1 million live views on PPTV, China’s main sports provider, and an additional 1 million in video on demand.”

So while Bloomberg looked set on talking about their struggles, the UFC just countered and boasted about 1 million views in China. That could be deemed as impressive in the US, but 1 million doesn’t exactly hold the same meaning in a country with over 1.3 billion people.


People can point out all these declining metrics — which are really there, despite White’s protests — but I fail to see how they’ve come up with these very bleak conclusions and a possible “death” of the organization.

When looking at these numbers, it’s easy to forget that the UFC has a lot of other revenue sources. Even back in 2012, pay-per-view buys only represented 30% of that pie. As I’ve detailed recently, the top MMA promotion is still highly profitable even while being in somewhat of a downswing these days.

Has it been as lucrative as WME-IMG imagined when they bought it for 4.2 billion? Maybe not, but it’s still earning a lot, and is very much alive and healthy. The sky isn’t falling just yet, and like boxing, Mixed Martial Arts isn’t dying out anytime soon.

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