by Ivan Trembow
A Detailed Look at the WWE vs. UFC Ratings Showdown
by Ivan Trembow
A huge TV industry showdown took place on Monday night, October 3rd, with Spike TV and its five-hour block of UFC programming squaring off with USA Network and its four-hour block of WWE programming.
It was WWE’s first night back on USA Network, and the return of WWE Raw with a special “Homecoming” episode was heavily hyped by USA Network with more than $7 million spent in a national advertising campaign. In stark contrast, Spike TV completely dropped the ball in promoting the UFC’s October 3rd special, as no commercials whatsoever hyped the show until approximately one week before the event.
As previously documented by MMAWeekly, the expectations going in were for WWE Raw to draw an overall rating in the range of 4.0 to 4.5, while Spike TV would be thrilled if the live UFC special going head-to-head with WWE could draw the same kind of audience that the live UFC specials drew in April and August. (Those two specials drew overall ratings of 1.9 and 1.5, respectively.)
As it turned out, both networks were very happy with the results, as the special three-hour episode of WWE Raw drew a 4.4 overall rating, and the two-hour live UFC special drew a 1.6 overall rating.
For WWE, its “Homecoming” show on USA Network was the highest-rated episode of Raw since June 27, 2005, an episode which also drew a 4.4 overall rating but had slightly more overall viewers. WWE’s claims of the Homecoming show being the highest-rated episode of Raw in over three years are false, unless one pretends that it was a two-hour show instead of a three-hour show, which it wasn’t.
For the UFC, the overall rating of 1.6 for the live “Ultimate Fight Night” special is lower than the April show’s 1.9 rating, but higher than the August show’s 1.5 rating. Spike TV considers it a remarkable achievement that a live UFC special going head-to-head with WWE Raw was able to draw a better rating than the previous live special, which was on a Saturday night and did not have to go head-to-head with WWE. Unfortunately for the UFC, the rest of its five-hour programming block did not perform nearly as well in the ratings as the live two-hour special.
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM: The Night Begins
The night of UFC and WWE programming started at 7:00 PM with a new episode of UFC Unleashed airing on Spike TV (while the movie “2 Fast 2 Furious” aired on USA Network). With all of the advertising for the UFC programming block focusing on the 9:00 PM start time of Ultimate Fight Night and the 11:00 PM airing of The Ultimate Fighter, nowhere near as many television viewers were even aware that UFC Unleashed was going to air at 7:00 PM, and that fact is reflected in the rating. The show drew an overall rating of 0.8, which is considered disappointing by the standards that UFC programming has set for itself over the past year.
At 8:00 PM, WWE joined the fray with the first hour of “WWE Homecoming” on USA Network, which drew a 3.9 rating from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Meanwhile, over on Spike TV, a pre-taped “Ultimate Knockouts” special drew an overall rating of 1.2 rating. While underwhelming, that has to be considered a decent rating, given that it was a bunch of old fights going head-to-head with a new episode WWE Raw.
At various times between 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM on Spike TV, advertisements aired for the WWE Homecoming special on USA Network. While Spike TV would obviously not sell commercials to an entity that it would be competing with at that exact time, WWE got around this by purchasing commercials on the local level in most major cities in the United States. To the viewer at home, it made no difference whether a commercial was purchased nationally or locally, because the effect was the same, which was that commercials were airing on UFC programming that urged people to watch WWE instead of the UFC.
From 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM on Spike TV, a clock was in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen that said, “Live Fight In…” and this clock counted down as 9:00 PM approached.
9:00 PM to 9:05 PM: Ultimate Fight Night Goes on the Air Five Minutes Late
Ultimate Fight Night started 9:00 PM Eastern Time… or at least it was supposed to. Inexplicably, Spike TV and the UFC had apparently not timed out the preceding “Ultimate Knockouts” special properly, because Ultimate Fight Night Live did not go on the air at 9:00 PM Eastern Time as it was supposed to.
In one of the biggest blunders in the recent history of head-to-head battles on cable television, the end of the “Ultimate Knockouts” special was still airing on Spike TV when the clock struck 9:00 PM on the East Coast, even though a week’s worth of commercials had told everyone to tune in at 9:00 PM to see the Ultimate Fight Night special.
It wasn’t just an over-run of 30 seconds or a minute, as an old Josh Barnett vs. Pedro Rizzo fight continued to air for several minutes past the 9:00 PM hour. While the end of the Barnett vs. Rizzo fight aired, the clock in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen that had been counting down to 9:00 PM for the past two hours had simply vanished, with no indication of what viewers were watching or what happened to the live fight special that had been advertised.
It wasn’t until approximately three seconds before the clock struck 9:05 PM Eastern Time that Ultimate Fight Night actually went on the air, and there’s no telling how many viewers the UFC had already lost by then.
By going on the air at 9:05 PM Eastern Time instead of 9:00 PM Eastern Time, this left the UFC with one hour and fifty-five minutes of time to use for the Ultimate Fight Night special instead of two hours, but they still had to air the approximately 32 minutes of commercials that had been sold. (This notion is confirmed by the fact that the Ultimate Fight Night replay that same night, which was scheduled to run from 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM, actually aired from 1:00 AM to 2:54 AM, because they didn’t have two full hours of content to fill the time.)
9:05 PM to 11:00 PM: Live TV vs. Live TV
We will now get into a minute-by-minute breakdown of the time period in which the UFC and WWE were both airing live programming on their respective networks.
The biggest problem that the UFC had with its first two live specials on Spike TV was the issue of how to format the timeframe of the shows, as there were often huge gaps of time in between fights. So, for the purposes of this breakdown, we will look at what went head-to-head with the UFC during each particular fight, and what went head-to-head with the UFC in the large gaps of time between fights.
When Ultimate Fight Night finally did go on the air at 9:05 PM, Josh Koscheck and Drew Fickett were already in the cage and ready to go. The fight started promptly at 9:06 PM, and the fight ended at 9:23 PM.
Over on USA Network at the same time, WWE wanted to put its biggest ratings draw (Stone Cold Steve Austin) in a segment up against the start of UFC’s live special, in order to discourage its viewers from even thinking about switching over to the UFC show. This strategy paid off, as a segment involving Steve Austin, Vince McMahon, and the rest of the McMahon family drew WWE’s highest quarter-hour rating of the night. The segment featured the re-airing of old Austin-McMahon clips such as McMahon “urinating in his pants” out of fear, and ended with Austin attacking all four members of the McMahon family.
Between the end of the UFC’s first fight at 9:23 PM and the start of the UFC’s second fight, there was a gap of 17 minutes. During that 17-minute gap, viewers who tuned into USA Network would have seen a ladder match between Edge and Matt Hardy in the culmination of their feud, which is a match that WWE could have easily sold on pay-per-view instead of giving it away on free television.
The second fight on the UFC telecast (Brandon Vera vs. Fabiano Scherner) started at 9:40 PM and ended at 9:50 PM. Airing head-to-head with this fight on WWE Raw was the end of the aforementioned ladder match, a backstage interview with Ric Flair, and a disturbing scene in which 80-year-old Mae Young walked around half-naked and propositioned a few wrestlers, which ended when WWE legend Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka took her up on her offer.
Between the end of the UFC’s second fight at 9:50 PM and the start of the UFC’s third fight, there was a gap of 25 minutes. During this huge 25-minute gap, WWE was putting on a tag team match with Triple H and Ric Flair, after which Triple H attacked Flair. Flair either did a very bad blade-job, or he intended to do a severe blade-job, as he was bleeding very heavily and for an extended period of time. The amount of blood on-screen was greater during this segment than it was at any time during the UFC broadcast, and that includes Evan Tanner’s facial lacerations in the final fight on the UFC broadcast.
The third fight on the UFC broadcast (Chris Leben vs. Edwin Dewees) finally started at 10:15 PM, and it ended quickly at 10:18 PM. Just as this fight was starting, WWE Raw went to a commercial. Approximately one minute before the Leben-Dewees ended, Raw came back from a commercial and replayed parts of the previous Ric Flair scene
Between the end of the UFC’s third fight at 10:18 PM and the start of the UFC’s fourth and final fight, there was another long gap, which lasted 21 minutes this time. Viewers who tuned into USA Network in between UFC fights would have seen continued footage of Triple H attacking Ric Flair (who was completely red in blood from the neck up at this point), followed by a segment involving many different WWE legends, followed by a five-woman Bra & Panties Match (which is exactly what it sounds like).
The fourth and final fight on the UFC broadcast (David Loiseau vs. Evan Tanner) started at 10:39 PM and ended at 10:50 PM. During this timeframe on USA Network, WWE put on the full ring entrances of six different wrestlers from WWE’s Smackdown brand, who normally never appear on Raw.
With the main event in the books and without enough time remaining to air any of the prelim fights, the last ten minutes of Ultimate Fight Night (from 10:50 PM to 11:00 PM) were filled with interviews and recaps. At the same time on USA Network, Raw’s storyline General Manager Eric Bischoff shut down the aforementioned Smackdown-brand match just as it was about to start, and then Hulk Hogan came to the ring for an interview in which he raised the possibility of wrestling Steve Austin at next year’s WrestleMania. The UFC’s live broadcast then went off the air at 11:00 PM Eastern Time, while WWE Raw continued with its over-run segment.
Overall, the first hour of Ultimate Fight Night drew an average rating of 1.5, with quarter-hour ratings of 1.4, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.7. WWE Raw drew a 4.9 average rating in that same hour, with quarter-hour ratings of 5.0, 5.0, 4.9, and 4.5.
The second hour of Ultimate Fight Night was up slightly, drawing an average rating of 1.6, with quarter-hour ratings of 1.5, 1.5, 1.6, and 1.6. At the same time, the ratings for WWE Raw fell slightly to 4.5, with quarter-hour ratings of 4.7, 4.4, 4.6, and 4.4.
The bottom line for each show is that the two-hour Ultimate Fight Night broadcast drew a 1.6 overall rating, and the three-hour WWE Raw broadcast drew a 4.4 overall rating, each of which made their respective networks very happy. WWE drew its highest overall rating since June, while the UFC proved that it could put a live fight special on TV head-to-head with WWE while still drawing higher ratings than regular season NBA games on cable television.
11:00 PM to 12:00 AM: TUF Goes Against “Best of Raw” Special
Ultimate Fight Night was not the only new UFC programming to go head-to-head with WWE Raw. Raw stayed on the air until 11:13 PM with a WWE Title Match main event, so the first 13 minutes of The Ultimate Fighter went head-to-head with the last 13 minutes of Raw.
Following Raw, WWE put on a pre-taped “Best of Raw” special, which drew an overall rating of 2.8. At the same time, a new episode of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV drew an overall rating of 1.3. (Far more information on The Ultimate Fighter’s ratings is available in a separate article that is dedicated to TUF’s ratings.)
Comparing the UFC’s Third Live Fight Special to the First Two
The Ultimate Fight Night event that took place on October 3rd drew better ratings than the Ultimate Fight Night event that took place on August 6th. That is an impressive achievement for the October 3rd show, given the fact that it had to go head-to-head with WWE Raw while the August 6th event did not. At the same time, the highest ratings for a live UFC fight special still belong to the April 9th event, which featured the finals of The Ultimate Fighter, along with Rich Franklin vs. Ken Shamrock.
In terms of overall ratings, the April 9th special drew a 1.9 rating, the August 6th special was down to 1.5, and the October 3rd special with WWE Raw as competition was back up to 1.6.
In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, which is by far the demographic that Spike TV and its advertisers value the most, the April 9th special drew a 3.3 rating, the August 6th special was down to 2.0, and the October 3rd special was back up to 2.6.
In the slightly broader demographic of 18-to-49-year-old males, the April 9th special drew a 2.7 rating, the August 6th special was down to a 1.8 rating, and the October 3rd special was back up to 2.1.
Gaps Between Fights Could Still Be Shortened
In terms of the gap between fights, the UFC did a slightly better job with the formatting of this show than was the case in the past, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. On this show, the three gaps in between fights lasted 17 minutes, 25 minutes, and 21 minutes. While none of those gaps can match the sheer ridiculousness of the whopping 32-minute gap between Fight #2 and Fight #3 on the August 6th edition of Ultimate Fight Night, 17 to 25 minutes is still too long of a time period for casual MMA fans to sit around and wait in between fights (and casual MMA fans make up the majority of the UFC’s audience on Spike TV).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying anything outlandish like, “Don’t have commercials!” It’s a given that there are going to be approximately 16 minutes of commercials on any given hour of television, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The question is what the UFC should do with other 44 minutes of time in any given hour of television. With a little more time allotted to fighting and a little less time allotted to talking in between fights, the UFC’s ratings for future live fight specials would be likely to increase.