One of the benefits of the UFC’s television deal with Fox is having a massive network audience to view its product. At this point, both sides are still working out the kinks with how to maximize the partnership with regards to creating an audience for MMA. Talk of a free television card on Super Bowl weekend is the kind of idea that could truly open the nation’s eyes to the sport.

Since 2004, the UFC has held a pay-per-view event annually on Super Bowl eve, and now with the backing of Fox, the promotion is in a position to create some of the most watched MMA events in the history of the sport.

For the third year in a row, the NFL’s Super Bowl was the most watched program in North American television. NBC’s ratings are reported as having 111.3 million viewers for Super Bowl 46. In 2011, Fox also drew 111 million viewers for Super Bowl 45. Consistently, the Super Bowl is the most watched television program in history, and continues to flirt with or break the ratings record year after year. Although CBS will broadcast the big game in 2013, Fox has the rights to air the Super Bowl in 2014 and the UFC could potentially play a part in the weekend’s programming.

The UFC typically heads to pay-per-view for Super Bowl weekend, but Fox executives have expressed interest in bringing the combat sports league to network television on the same weekend as the Super Bowl. Where and how to place UFC programming on the biggest weekend in television is key.

Having an event on Saturday, the night before the big game, would most likely see a boost in ratings for a televised UFC card on Fox, but neither side would really be peaking with a television audience. This past January, Fox was only receiving a few million viewers with its counter-programming of NBC’s broadcast of the Super Bowl. UFC on Fox numbers have yet to fall below two million, so it wouldn’t be that much of a gain to counter the big game with the UFC on the day of or the night before the Super Bowl while Fox is not airing it. The UFC and Fox can just stay the course with scheduled programming until 2014 when they will receive the biggest numbers.

Which is what both parties are planning on doing, with UFC 156 airing on PPV the day before Super Bowl Sunday this coming year.

The best bet to maximize numbers for a UFC event on network television during the big weekend is to have it take the coveted spot immediately following the Super Bowl broadcast to retain a percentage of the viewers. In 2011, 32 million people kept their television sets on Fox to watch the television show Glee after the Super Bowl’s airing. This year, NBC held 53 million viewers for the singing competition show The Voice after its broadcast of the game.

These are potential numbers that the UFC won’t be getting at any other time. Six million viewers tuned into the first UFC on Fox event and the numbers have continued to drop to an average of 2.4 million for the last two events. The more people that are available to watch a UFC event on television, the more likely that the UFC will retain a handful, possibly in the millions, for future events.

While Saturday still seems the most likely time slot for an event from a logistical standpoint, it wouldn’t necessarily be optimal for the UFC. To target the time slot that will bring in the biggest number of eyeballs, the promotion would have to be prepared with something after the Super Bowl ends on Sunday night. It would be looking at having fights after 10 p.m. ET on a Sunday as the biggest window for viewership.

If the UFC went this route, it would be unlikely to host a full live event occurring during the Super Bowl. The promotion would be better served having a few marquee fights ready to go as soon as the football broadcast ends. Within a one-and-a-half to two-hour block, the UFC could fit two or three fights into a broadcast that would have the interest of tens of millions of retained viewers.

This scenario wouldn’t be much different than the first UFC on Fox event, which featured a single fight between champion Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos for the heavyweight title. For an hour of broadcasting, fans only saw a minute thirty of action, and that wasn’t enough to keep the same numbers for future broadcasts. Casual viewers may tune in to watch this “new” sport of MMA, but the UFC still needs to sell them on why they should come back to view again.

If the UFC plans on only offering a single fight, then putting it at the half-time slot of this year’s Super Bowl would be incentive for viewers to switch over to Fox. We probably aren’t talking huge numbers, but it would be the sort of thing that would garner interest from an available and ample audience. Having a single fight during the Fox Super Bowl broadcast in 2014 would be a unique spectacle seen by a large audience as well, but it would arguably be better to have an entire televised UFC card the night before on Saturday, or just having a smaller card after the Sunday event.

In 2014, the UFC has the biggest opportunity to “get some fans” with the backing of Fox on television’s most popular weekend. The only question is what approach the promotion opts to take.

Photo: Alistair Overeem (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.