The roller coaster of ratings that has come from the UFC holding events on Fox has started to level itself out. After two successful events, there was a dip in the ratings for the following two events. Then came two consecutive events where more than four million viewers tuned in, so it appears as though the UFC and its broadcast partners have figured out a formula to get the ratings that they are looking for. If you could take a look behind the scenes, you’d likely see the big wigs at the UFC celebrating the numbers that from the last two Fox cards. However, the promotion needs to continue to draw in new viewers.

The UFC benefited from major advertising that came from partnering with Fox. Every Sunday during the fall, sports fans tune into NFL games at a high rate. Simply being able to put an advertisement on the network as a lead-in to the action on the gridiron is a great way to get people who may not have known about the event to tune in. Die-hard MMA fans will always know when and where to tune in, but garnering these new fans is something that the promotion hopes to get out of its relationship with the network giant.

UFC on Fox 5 took place on Dec. 8, which allowed for Fox to alert audiences tuning into important football games that took place towards the end of the regular season. That was parlayed into the next event on the network, where the UFC and Fox were banking on advertisement geared towards strong audiences tuning in to see who would punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.

Another factor to help with the ratings was to inject legends of the sport into the cards. During the last two network fight shows, the promotion has rolled out B.J. Penn, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. A casual fan won’t bother tuning in to see mid-level fighters fight, but if the UFC is strutting out three fighters who are former champions of their respective divisions, then people will be more likely to tune in.

But probably the biggest reason that people have tuned in to the last two cards more than the two prior is because there were championship main events. If you really want to reel in those casual fans, you have to put some gold on the line. The first time the promotion was shown on Fox, the heavyweight title was at stake between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. Sure, there is a lot to be said about a heavyweight championship fight (and that is something that the UFC won’t be able to roll out every time), but now that the UFC has nine divisions, it should do its best to feature a title fight each time it hits network airwaves. The best way to get a new fan to tune in is by making the main event extremely important, and nothing does that more than having a title up for grabs.

With the NFL season officially over, the promotion and network cannot rely on those viewers, but there is another ratings horse that garners the network some major ratings, and that is NASCAR. While some people consider auto racing boring, they may not realize that NASCAR has quietly become the No. 1 spectator sport in this country. Advertising during the race broadcasts on Fox is going to be mandatory, but there are more ways to advertise in auto racing than just by pumping out commercials. The promotion needs to sponsor a car, preferably one with a top driver who gets a lot of camera time. The Daytona 500 is right around the corner, and that is the perfect time for the UFC to start advertising for its next venture on the network.

Putting Ben Henderson back on Fox was a smart move too. The promotion featured him at UFC on Fox 4, and viewers tuned in. Putting the lightweight championship back on the network is a strong play. The UFC built up a fighter who is equally likable and skilled, and rather than messing with the viewers, the promotion is going back to the well and giving “Smooth” an encore. This move works double for the UFC too, as it can promote this fight as a champion versus champion match-up, given that Henderson’s opponent, Gilbert Melendez, will be bringing the Strikeforce title with him into the UFC.

Keeping with matchmaking and realizing that you cannot always have a title fight headline the card forces the UFC to have to find other ways to tune in. The best way other than putting a belt on the line is by creating a true No. 1 contender fight. The promotion tried something like this at UFC on Fox 4, but it got a little confusing. Frequently, as was the case with Alistair Overeem at UFC 156, a fighter will be told that if they win their next fight then they will get the next title shot. Moves like that can backfire if someone like Antonio Silva has anything to say about it, and that spoils the party. If UFC President Dana White and company make a match that guarantees the victor the next title fight in their respective division, then it holds a lot more weight than a fight without implications.

The strides that the UFC has made over the last two events on Fox has vastly improved the ratings, but there is more that can be done. The NFL was a big platform for getting the word out there, and there is even more opportunity to get recognition through NASCAR. Continuing to put on title fights and fights with purpose, rather than just rolling out big names for no reason, is something that the promotion needs to continue to do. If things are done properly, the sky is the limit for the viewership of UFC on Fox cards.

Photo: UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.