Importance of FUEL TV to the UFC
By Micah Stoll
The recent UFC on FUEL TV could be the most scrutinized ratings result of any MMA event. UFC pay-per-views are easy to analyze. There is a set number of buys and an exact live gate. Even when the UFC was on Spike there had been enough events that once the ratings came in, fans knew if it was a well watched fight card.
However, the FUEL TV results are much more complicated. 217,000 average viewers watched the 3 hour event, peaking with 315,000 watching Ellenberger defeat Sanchez.
Not great numbers for a sport wanting mainstream status. Spike TV counter programmed with The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale, averaging 694,000 viewers, and a Diego Sanchez ladened UFC Unleashed, averaging 661,000.
FUEL TV was handily beat with rebroadcasts of old fights on a channel scorned by the UFC.
The questions become, how can Ellenberger vs Sanchez be considered successful?
Why does the UFC need FUEL TV?
The first question has a simple answer. Spike is available in 99 million home, and FUEL in only 35 million. FUEL's ratings have grown recently due to the UFC and FOX partnering together.
FUEL had a third less ratings and are in a third less homes than Spike. I had to go to a friends house to watch the fights. I called three sports bars that we watch UFC events at, and only one had FUEL TV.
The UFC did the right thing putting weigh ins, undercard fights and a live fight card on the lowly carried channel. Fans will make some noise missing weigh ins, but can catch them eventually online.
They won't be happy missing undercard fights, but will at least see the more exciting finishes as fillers on the PPV.
However, fans will raise hell missing live fights. The UFC is counting on that.
That fans will call their cable provider and ask why FUEL TV is not part of their cable bundle and what they can do to change that.
The UFC has wanted their own channel for several years. The Sports Business Journal did a survey in 2010, asking what sports brands could have their own channel, and the UFC overwhelmingly led.
Other leagues and teams named were NASCAR, FIFA, Dallas Cowboys and the Olympics.
The UFC will use FUEL TV to broadcast everything UFC soon. FUEL will happily go along for the ride, while the number of households they become available in and viewership soars.
The UFC will eventually, with the assistance of FUEL, produce their own shows. Daily and weekly talk and debate programs similar to what ESPN has will fill time slots.
A model for the UFC/FUEL relationship should be what the NFL did with their network. The NFL announced that last season they averaged 6.2 million viewers per game, up 8% from the 2010 season, and double the 3.1 million per game the network averaged in their inaugural season of 2006.
They also show old games, games of historic significance and have several other programs talking about football.
It is doubtful that the UFC will reach the unbelievable numbers the NFL has garnered, but a well run network devoted to their product will aid in its popularity and growth.