A sellout crowd of 6,443 fight fans flooded into Broomfield, Colorado's 1stBank Event Center on Sunday, March, 21st. The Ultimate Fighting Championship raked in a healthy gate to the tune of $568, 125. That's an average of just over $80 per ticket and a very decent haul for a non-numbered UFC show.
The bigger question coming out of UFC on Vs. 1: Vera vs. Jones was how the promotion would fare in the ratings game after having moved away from their usual free-TV home of SpikeTV and on to the Vs. network.
The answer seems to be, not too badly. The UFC averaged 1.24 million viewers this past Sunday night for a respectable 1.6 rating among men aged 18-34.
World Extreme Cagefighting events are commonly broadcast on Vs., so many industry observers looked forward to this weekend's event for it's ability to demonstrate the relative fan-base sizes of Zuffa's sister promotions. Now the the numbers are in, we can see that UFC on Vs. 1's mark of 1.24 million is much better than the average WEC show, and over three times larger than the recent WEC 47: Bowles vs. Cruz, which nabbed only 373, 000 pairs of eyes.
While it's now pretty clear, though not particularly surprising, that Vs. viewers are about three times more eager to tune in to a UFC card as compared to a WEC event, UFC On Vs. 1 still fell just short of setting a new Vs. record for MMA viewership. That honour still belongs to WEC 34: Faber vs. Pulver, which managed a viewership of 1.54 million in summer 2008.
The viewership number of 1.24 million for UFC on Vs. 1: Vera vs. Jones was also significantly lower than the average show on Spike, which can frequently hit numbers north of 2 million. The most recent UFC event on Spike, Ultimate Fight Night 20: Maynard vs. Diaz, managed an average viewership of 1.7 million, or roughly %30 more viewers than UFC On Vs. 1: Vera vs. Jones. This was the case despite the fact that UFN 20 was not nearly so stacked with top talent as UFC On Vs 1 and was a attention-testing three hour broadcast as compared to Vs.' more viewer friendly two-hour length. Of course, the flip-side of that is that SpikeTV is available in 99 million homes as compared to just 75 million for Vs.
It will be interesting to see how these trends continue to play out as the UFC seems committed to broadcasting free shows on both channels. SpikeTV, which will remain the UFC's primary cable home-base for now, gets its next event on March 31st when UFN 21: Florian vs. Gomi goes live ahead of the debut of TUF 11: Team Liddell vs. Team Ortiz. The next UFC show on Vs. is set for August, 1st in Oakland, CA.
Overall, it makes good sense for the UFC to court fans on more than one cable network in the hopes that reaching viewers from a variety of sources may help grow their fan-base. That is to say, SpikeTV's men's interests crowd is decidedly different from Vs.' extreme/alternative sports viewers. It also gives the UFC a leg-up in negotiations with individual stations when setting terms of their ongoing relationships if they can point to a competitor who is also willing to broadcast their events.
That said, all the SpikeTV's and Vs.' in the world of cable cannot add up to the power of a network TV giant like CBS or even a widely received cable station like ESPN. So far, the UFC has only convinced fringe players to allow them to control their own shows on the airwaves. They will have a difficult time being taken seriously in the same breath as organizations like the PGA, or NBA until they can change that. Strikeforce already has with their CBS arrangement, which gives them a distinct distribution advantage that the UFC should sensibly want to eradicate.