Every few months there is a week or two span where there isn’t a major MMA event. This causes all us MMA journalists and bloggers to go into a tizzy since there is no upcoming event to dissect and write about. During this period of MMA withdrawal, the MMA media usually finds some story or angle to write about and it becomes the new great debate until the next major MMA event rolls around.
Well, we are in that strange period right now. UFC 118 ended over a week ago and UFC Fight Night: Marquardt vs. Palhares doesn’t go off till next Wednesday. During this lull in major MMA events, the question being asked with UFC 119 and UFC 120 looming in the very near future is, has the UFC oversaturated the market?
This question about oversaturation came from a comment Jim Ross made on his blog about the lack of hype for UFC 119:
There is little buzz for UFC 119 featuring Frank Mir vs. Cro Cop on September 25. UFC will have to turn up the burners for the 'go home' promotional time to encourage an acceptable PPV number. It seems as if UFC's expectations for this fight are not lofty…
Jim Ross is right. There is little buzz about UFC 119 and fellow Cagesideseats writer Geno Mrosko went a little further on the subject:
He's completely right when he says there is little buzz for UFC 119. In fact, Ross himself, without actually saying so, shows how little interest he has in it by immediately talking about Brock Lesnar. Which is largely what the greater population of UFC fans are going to do. They'll forget about a card like this, read about it online or stream it illegally, and focus on the upcoming Lesnar fight. By running so many shows every year, the UFC, in effect, forces our hands as far as what we want to purchase. Yes, they give us free shows scattered throughout the year, such as the next numbered event after this one, UFC 120, but the amount of PPV shows still dictates a pick and choose mentality.
This morning, Kid Nate from Bloodyelbow wondered if the sale of TapouT was a sign that the UFC may have peaked in terms of growth:
As always, the realities of big business are complicated and multi-faceted, but you have to wonder if the TapouT guys are hedging their bets because they're worried that the UFC boom is winding down and we're heading into an era where Zuffa and MMA will strive to consolidate the gains made in the last five years rather than continuing to grow rapidly.
So does this mean that the UFC may have peaked? Will the top MMA promotion never accomplish Dana White’s goal of becoming bigger than the NFL and the World Cup? Call me the glass half full guy but I am not buying the fact that the UFC has peaked or oversaturated the market and here’s why after the jump...
1) The UFC goes through a period with "weak" fight cards every few months and we happen to be going through another period like that right now with UFC 119 and UFC 120. Does anyone remember how upset fans were about at the beginning of the year about UFC 108: Evans vs. Silva, UFC 109: Couture vs. Coleman and UFC 110: Nogueira vs. Velasquez? Or how about this time last year with UFC 105: Couture vs. Vera and UFC 106: Griffin vs. Ortiz 2? Due to the fact that fighters get injured and there are only five titles, not every fight card can have a title fight or be completely stacked. Which brings me to my next point…
2) Injuries and scheduling conflicts. There are no title fights that could headline UFC 119 and UFC 120 but there could have been if not for injuries and other factors. Light Heavyweight champ Shogun Rua would probably be making his first title defense on one of these PPV cards if he didn’t injury his knee in his last bout with Lyoto Machida. Welterweight George St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck would have probably squared off on one of these two upcoming fight cards if it wasn’t for the production of The Ultimate Fighter 12. Heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar is scheduled to fight next month after last entering the Octagon in July and Lightweight champ Frankie Edgar and Middleweight champ Anderson Silva just fought last month so they are out of commission till the end of the year. Also, UFC 119 was looking pretty sweet until Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira had to pull out of his anticipated rematch with Frank Mir with a hip injury. There literally isn’t any big name fighters you could plug into these fight cards to make them look on paper to be a big time event.
3) The UFC just came off one of the most successful and historic runs in its short history starting with UFC 111 last March. Depending on reports, here is what the estimated PPV buy rates look like from all UFC PPV events since UFC 111. UFC 111 – 850,000, UFC 112 – 525,000, UFC 113 – 520,000k, UFC 114 – 925,000, UFC 115 – 520,000, UFC 116 – 1.15 million, UFC 117 – 600,000 and UFC 118 – 570,000. Eventually, the UFC had to come back down to earth for a little while. UFC 119 will probably do around 300,000 PPV buys which would be the first PPV event to do under 500,000 PPV buys in almost seven months. Let me repeat that. The first PPV event to do under 500,000 PPV buys in almost seven months. You also have to remember that UFC 120 is going to be free on Spike and will garner a good rating due to the fact it is free. That event will be followed by UFC 121 which will be headlined by Brock Lesnar who is PPV gold. This lull is only going to last two UFC events which is shorter than usual.
4) We are still in a crappy economy and the UFC still thrived. Most reports still have unemployment in the United States somewhere between 9-10% which makes the UFC’s great summer all that more impressive. Almost all other sports have been affected by this recession but the UFC is still successfully plugging along. For example, take a look at my beloved Boston Red Sox numbers this year. As we all know, my fellow New Englanders are baseball crazy to the point where it is obnoxious (yes, we are obnoxious) but that hasn’t stopped TV ratings from being down 36% percent. Also, all the games are still sold out, but the attendance numbers are also down which means less revenue through stadium vendors. Yet, even during the recession, the UFC was still able to have a tremendous summer and are still on track to break their overall PPV number from last year which was shattered the all time record. Imagine what those numbers will look like if or when the unemployment numbers start to drop.
5) There are still plenty of undeveloped markets out there like South America, Japan, China and Europe for the UFC to take advantage of. Even here in the USA, the UFC still hasn’t capitalized on every market (it’s not for lack of effort on their part). As the months go by, the UFC is going to be expanding their brand here in the United States and globally, which will continue to fuel their rapid growth. It’s not like UFC has tapped out all their markets or potential markets.
So has the UFC oversaturated the market to the point where it will affect their growth? Probably not. Where are just in one of those weird yearly periods where there is a pause in terms of quality fight cards, but that is going to change starting with UFC 121 in October when Lesnar will probably come close to setting another PPV record for the UFC.