The UFC’s debut main card broadcast on ESPN went up against stiff competition last Sunday, but the ratings were quite good.
Nielsen numbers have the UFC Phoenix main card averaging 1.463 million viewers, peaking at 1.7 million viewers for the very short main event between Cain Velasquez and Francis Ngannou. In terms of television ratings, it finished 5th on the night at 0.59 in the 18-49 demographic, while top spot went to the NBA All-Star Game on TNT, with a 2.42 rating in the 18-49 demo and an average of more than 5.7 million viewers. The UFC Phoenix household rating was a 0.88 for the main card.
The viewership figures for the two-hour prelims were 988,000 viewers, with Aljamain Sterling’s win over Jimmie Rivera as the featured bout. Unlike the UFC Brooklyn prelims and the UFC 234 prelims, UFC Phoenix did not have a major sporting event as its lead-in, but rather an episode of SportsCenter.
With most of the UFC’s non-PPV events airing on ESPN+, the ESPN cards are effectively like the UFC on FOX events, but with ten shows per year instead of four. As Sports Media Watch notes, these numbers are way better than the FS1 era, but not up to par with FOX cards.
All four UFC windows on ESPN — three prelims and one main card — have increased at least 45 percent over last year’s comparable telecasts on FS1.
A less flattering comparison is to the UFC on FOX. Sunday’s telecast trailed all 31 UFC on FOX main events, none of which ever dipped below a 1.0 and 1.68 million. In February of last year, UFC on FOX 26 had a considerably stronger 1.2 and 2.04 million. Keep in mind FOX is a broadcast network in tens of millions more homes than ESPN.
Now in fairness, this was a Sunday night event running opposite the NBA All-Star Game, as well as WWE Elimination Chamber, so it was a busy night. This is hardly a disappointment, perhaps the viewership totals could’ve been higher, but I’d say this was a good start. They certainly outperformed the other combat sports events from the weekend, including PBC on FOX: Santa Cruz vs. Rivera (1.3 million viewers and a 0.8 rating) and Top Rank Boxing: Brant vs. Baysangurov (0.45 rating and 708,000 viewers).
In case you’re wondering, Bellator 215: Mitrione vs. Kharitonov averaged just 365,000 viewers on Paramount Network, with a rating of 0.12 in the 18-49 demographic, ranking 81st among all Friday night cable programming. Bellator 216: MVP vs. Daley was exclusive to DAZN, so there are no ratings to report there.
The next UFC on ESPN event is Saturday, March 30th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Justin Gaethje will take on fellow lightweight contender Edson Barboza in the main event. There will be an early main card start time of 7 PM ET/4 PM PT, and will serve as a lead-in to a Top Rank Boxing broadcast headlined by WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Doudou Ngumbu, also in Philly.