UFC 1 aired on November 12, 1993 so it was very fitting for the UFC on Fox debut to take place 18 years later on November 12, 2011. As a fan of Spike television I was unhappy to see the 7 year deal come to an end as Spike provided the launching ground the UFC needed to develop into what they are now. Fortunately, Dana White and company didn’t think like me and on August 18, 2011 they announced their new 7 year partnership with Fox Sports worth roughly 90 million, far exceeding the previous Spike contract.
The first UFC on Fox event was an hour long broadcast that led with a profile of the fighters which is similar to T.U.F’s philosophy of getting to know the fighters as people. That’s exactly how I got hooked on the sport so I think it was a good move by UFC to try and promote both Champion and Challenger. It was hard to determine whether or not the event was successful as there was only 1 fight on the televised card and it lasted just 64 seconds. There were approximately 5.7 million viewers which is fantastic, but in terms of educating this new audience on MMA I’m not so sure that happened. There were no takedowns, reversals or escapes just one big punch and some ground and pound, but maybe that’s what the fans wanted. Since the days of Mike Tyson fight fans have been praying for a heavyweight KO king so I expect Dos Santos’s run as champion to draw major interest. All in all I felt the event was successful and so did the fans, UFC, and Fox.
Since the first UFC on Fox event the UFC has broken FUEL TV records for the key demographic of 18-35 year old males. This is a sign of greater things to come and Co-President at Fox Sports Erik Shanks thinks so too. “Fuel is an even bigger story obviously. Ratings every week, every month, the UFC content sets ratings records; we’ve doubled the ratings on Fuel since UFC’s been on it” said Shanks.
Despite all the broken records it hasn’t been all rainbows and gumdrops as UFC on Fox 3: Diaz vs. Miller seemed to be a disappointment in viewership ratings. I felt like it was a simple case of scheduling conflicts but some people like Dave Meltzer felt otherwise and believed that a below average 2.25 million viewers was a sign of over exposure and it was too much UFC too soon. May 5, 2012 was not a normal night with multiple events potentially drawing interest from potential UFC viewers; Cinco de Mayo, the Cotto/Mayweather fight, NBA playoffs, Major League Baseball, and the Hollywood Blockbuster the Avengers debuting in theatres. These events would surely bring down UFC’s viewership, however Dana White stilled pointed out the events successes. The main event had 3 million viewers and the only shows that beat him May 5, 2012 were being watched by a demographic of 55 and older. “We were the number one program of the night with all key male demos” said White. UFC on Fox 3 was extremely successful with the fights they put on and while up against strong competition the UFC proved it is a major sport among sports fans.
UFC and Fox’s partnership has also experienced some problems when the UFC on FX: Johnson vs. McCall fight took place. The re-match has since taken place so the debate over who is the better 125 pound fighter has been settled. However the stink of a miscalculation upon reading the score cards, thus causing the first fight to end pre-maturely, remains with UFC fans, the UFC, and Fox. Miscalculations and errors happen in all sports which is fine as long as the sport can rebound by making sure the same error doesn’t happen again.
The Ultimate Fighter: Faber vs. Cruz was included in the Fox deal and saw major success with the new addition of live fights. Along with the new format, Jon Anik made his debut with T.U.F Live bringing with him a lot of sports analyst experience to the UFC after working for ESPN. But of course nothing ever goes as planned and Dominick Cruz’s ACL injury removed one half of the intended coach’s matchup which resulted in Renan Barao stepping up to replace Cruz and defeat Urijah Faber in the main event of UFC 149. Overall T.U.F season 15 was successful as far as MMA competition is concerned showing a variety of KO’s, submissions and decision victories, but for next season the decision has been made to move away from the Live format in favour of the more traditional pre-taped show.
To date the UFC has aired 12 main cards on Fox Stations which includes the T.U.F season 15 finale. As a fan I have barely noticed the transition from Spike aside from the addition of Anik. The goal for Fox was to better reach the key male demographic of 18-35 year olds and I sincerely believe that has been done. The UFC obviously wanted to increase their bankroll and the new Fox contract accomplished that. Additionally, the UFC wanted to grow their audience and educate fans on the sport of MMA. 29 finishes and 24 decisions have surely educated fans while also keeping the casual fan seeking only knockouts happy. There is no doubt that more people watch Fox than Spike so the UFC will be enjoying a major increase in viewership over the next 7 years.
The UFC has never put on as many fights per year as they are right now though. Between the Ultimate Fighter, PPV’s and Fox Stations the UFC is airing fight cards roughly every one to two weeks per year. This goes back to what the very experienced Dave Meltzer said about overexposure and how it can ruin a sport. True fans will be there watching every event but some people just want the big names like GSP or Jon Jones so it’s possible the UFC and Fox could experience low ratings but it will only be for the free events that don’t have the star power. The most important part of this deal is the increase in viewership and how much influence that will have on the next generation of athletes. The best way to grow your sport is by offering athletes that no other sport has so let’s all cross our fingers the next Anderson Silva is watching Fox.