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Opening Round: You Down with PPV?

A little over two weeks ago UFC 136 took place in Houston, Texas and featured a lineup boasting two title-fights, an appearance by media darling Chael Sonnen, and some solid undercard action as well. The event was treated as one of the year’s biggest, deservedly so in the sense of having dual championship bouts, and was given a Fan Expo to increase the card’s profile.

Yet with a great lineup and the full Zuffa marketing machine treatment the PPV apparently did terrible numbers from a buyrate perspective. Not just disappointing figures mind you but “sleepless nights at Dana White’s house” bad.

250,000 is the number in question. What does that mean to the Average Joe like me and you? Not a lot. However, ask around the streets of Nerdville and you’ll find out 250k is staggeringly low for a show with the hype UFC 136 had surrounding it; the kind of figure said to be one of the lowest numbers in the last five years, a startling statistic no doubt to the folks at UFC headquarters still basking in the glow of their contract with FOX.

With Georges St. Pierre now out of UFC 137 it’s likely the buys will take a hit since the only mainstream stars still involved are sitting at the top of the card with the remainder comprised of competitive clashes between guys the general public has never heard of. Rather than speculate on how poorly it will/won’t do, I’m going to instead point out three ways the UFC can potentially plug a few holes before it’s too late and MMA is back on the fringe instead of featured as among the big boys as it should be.

1. Fewer Shows – It’s probably the argument you’ll hear the most when it comes to things the UFC needs to change. The number of live events the organization is putting on has diluted the talent pool to the point abominations like UFC 138 exist. Also, the bulk of the world is experiencing an economic downturn, so asking a person to pay $100+ on top of a regular cable bill (already atrocious in most cases) in months like October is a quest destined for failure. Putting together fewer full lineups would also let the UFC put at least 2-3 significant scraps on every PPV in case one falls apart. Also, less can be more in terms of exclusivity. If there was a fireworks show every month with four finales in it things wouldn’t feel as special on the Fourth of July, would they?

2. Accept the Marriage between Sports/Entertainment – The UFC needs to find creative ways to market their product. They could start have monthly PPVs sold to viewers by free weekly programming instead of outdated video clips. TRUE STORY – A preview for UFC 137 came on during the related Countdown special last night still featuring GSP and Carlos Condit. Moving on, instead of having three full live events every month, have one (or two on special occasions) with a show on a weekday evening featuring 3-4 live fights while using other segments to hype the upcoming PPV. Like TUF it would be a great way to let the fighters’ personalities shine through to grow new fan bases. The concept would also keep delivering free, live match-ups for viewers while saving the best for those who are willing to pay to see it.

Other “outside the box” options might include a season of the Ultimate Fighter with current stars vying for a title-shot, like TUF 4 but with higher caliber competitors, or going the way of the PRIDE entrance in terms of showmanship without the Japanese campiness. The production in Japan, if toned down slightly, could catch on Stateside in a big way. Look at the show within the show at NFL games – there are Jumbotrons, mascots, pyrotechnics…you name it. The reason for that is the “big event” atmosphere it creates.

3. Reduce the Prelims, Extend the PPV – I enjoy having two free fights on before a PPV starts but, likewise, one wouldn’t be so bad either with only a thirty minute lead-in rather than the full hour. Or, by that same logic, take a fight off Facebook and bump it up to Spike TV (soon to be FX). Point being, it’s time to add another fight to the PPV. This weekend Donald Cerrone vs. Dennis Siver or Tyson Griffin vs. Bart Palaszewski would be so at home on the PPV portion of the event they would have their feet kicked up on the television’s proverbial table. Adding another half-hour onto the PPV for an overrun can’t be difficult, as the UFC has done it before, and putting another match-up on the main card would help justify the viewers’ cost at home.

Though nothing is guaranteed and I’m more of a Zucker Brother than a Zuckerberg when it comes to actual business acumen, the above selections seem like reasonable ways to boost buyrates and maintain integrity with a quick makeover. It’s time to cut the fat and season the steak, then let it sizzle.

What do you think about the subject on today’s “Opening Round”? Tell us on our Twitter account (@mmatraining)!

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