Behind the Numbers – Is the UFC still the Fastest Growing Sport? Richard Wilcoxon September 19, 2011 News The month of August ended with what many are calling the best UFC event of the year. UFC 134 featured middleweight champion Anderson Silva defending his title against the last man to defeat him in Yushin Okami. The co-main event showcased the always popular Forrest Griffin facing former light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Even the third fight on the card featured former heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira facing TUF competitor and rising prospect Brendan Schaub. With such a stacked card, one would expect a huge success. In Brazil, where the event took place, it was a success. The arena sold out quickly and a huge percentage of fans in the country were able to tune into the event for free on local television. But it appears to be a completely different story in the US. Early estimates place the event at only about 300,000 pay-per-view buys. For comparison, the last event Silva headlined did 750,000 pay-per-view buys. While Hurricane Irene threatening much of the East Coast with power outages surely had some impact, it doesn’t explain the 150% drop in buy rates. UFC 134 actually just continues the trend of decreased viewership in 2011. 2010 was a record-setting year for the UFC. The UFC set a record with over 9.2 million pay-per-view buys. This averaged out to nearly 615,000 buys per event. Television ratings were increasing as well, with an average of 1.67 million people watching free events that aired on Spike and Versus. Even live attendance at events increased over 2009. With 2011 now two-thirds over, the numbers are notably down from last year and will struggle to even reach the 2009 numbers. Through the first 10 pay-per-view events this year, there have only been 3.93 million buys. That is only an average of 393,000 buys per event. With only six pay-per-view events left this year, they will need 5.27 million buys to tie 2010’s numbers, which is an average of 878,000 buys per event. Not a single event in 2011 has reached 878,000 buys yet. The Year Comparison: 2009 2010 2011* Overall buys 7.175 million buys 9.25 million buys 3.93 million buys Avg. buys per event 551, 923 616,667 393,000 # of events over 500,000 buys 7 11 2 # of events over 1 million buys 1 3 0 *2011 numbers are through August It actually gets worse when you realize the UFC will set a record for the most pay-per-view events this year. In 2011, there will be 16 pay-per-view events while there were only 15 in 2010 and 13 in 2009. Pay-per-view is not the only area where the UFC is lagging in 2011. In 2010, the free cable events on Spike and Versus averaged 1.67 million viewers per event. In 2011, those numbers have dropped to 1.34 million viewers. The average live attendance per event initially looks promising for 2011. Average attendance for live events in 2009 was 12,060 and inched up to 12,407 in 2010. While in 2011, the average is an astounding 13,642. However, UFC 129 drew 55,724 people which sharply skews the average. If you remove UFC 129, the average attendance for 2011 falls sharply to an average of just 10,837 attendees over the remaining events. The UFC has seen rapid growth since 2005. Each year has been better than the last. This year may just end up being a blip in the continued growth of the UFC. However, it is important to look at what is currently happening and keep an eye on if it is a new trend or an abnormality. Johnny Well… UFC is not a sport. It’s a promotion company.