by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
The two-hour Spike TV broadcast of “UFC: The Final Chapter” shattered all of the UFC’s ratings records on Tuesday night, October 10th.
Headlined by the third and final match between former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz and MMA legend Ken Shamrock, the two-hour broadcast averaged a 3.1 overall rating, with a 2.8 average in the first hour and a 3.4 average in the second hour.
UFC Ratings Record Book Gets Re-Written in One Night
Previously, the highest-rated UFC broadcast of all time was the live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 3, which drew a 2.0 overall rating on June 24th, 2006. There was previously one other occasion when the UFC drew a 2.0 overall rating for a live Spike TV broadcast (the live season finale of TUF 2), and this was also the case with three separate pre-taped episodes of The Ultimate Fighter (two episodes from the first season of the show, along with the season premiere of TUF 3). However, the highest-rated broadcast in terms of overall viewership was the live season finale of TUF 3.
All of those records have now been demolished by UFC: The Final Chapter. The ratings expectations for The Final Chapter within Spike TV were that the show would break the 3.0 mark, which would have sounded like an insanely unrealistic goal if it weren’t for the fact that the show was headlined by a fight between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock.
Though the fight itself lasted less than three minutes, the time period that contained the actual Ortiz-Shamrock fight itself and the pre-fight introductions drew an enormously impressive 4.3 rating.
That breaks down to an amazing 5.7 million viewers for the fight. This shatters the UFC’s previous record for the number of people watching a UFC fight at any given time. The previous record was 3.4 million viewers, despite repeated claims by Zuffa that the first fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar was watched live by ten million viewers.
Quarter-Hour Ratings Show Growth Throughout the Show
As is always the case with live UFC broadcasts on Spike TV, the least-watched quarter-hour was the first.
The first fight on the broadcast was Matt Hamill’s victory over Seth Petruzelli, which started off with a 2.4 rating at the beginning of the fight and proceeded to grow by an unusually high margin to a 3.0 rating at the end of the fight.
Jason MacDonald’s victory over Ed Herman drew a 2.8 rating, while Kendall Grove’s victory over Chris Price drew a 3.1 rating.
As expected, the Ortiz-Shamrock fight led to a massive jump in the quarter-hour ratings, as the fight itself drew a rating of 4.3.
The Ortiz-Shamrock fight ended at 9:44 PM Eastern Time, and approximately one-third of the viewing audience did not stick around for the post-fight interviews, as the rating for the final quarter-hour of the broadcast fell to 3.0, which is still a tremendously successful quarter-hour rating.
Demographic Ratings Even More Impressive than Overall Rating
In the specific viewership demographics that the UFC and Spike TV make an effort to target so that they can boost their revenue with the sale of TV commercials, The Final Chapter performed even more impressively than the 3.1 overall rating would suggest.
In the 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, the previous all-time record for any complete UFC broadcast was a 2.9 rating for the live finale of TUF 3. The Final Chapter averaged a 4.5 rating in this demographic, far eclipsing the previous record.
In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, which is the UFC’s primary audience and is also the demographic that advertisers across many industries are struggling to reach, the previous all-time record for any complete UFC broadcast was 3.8 for the live finale of TUF 3. The Final Chapter averaged a whopping 6.0 rating in this demographic.
To put this number in perspective, the UFC broadcast averaged 1.6 million viewers in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, which was greater than the 1.1 million viewers in the same demographic who watched the baseball playoff game between the A’s and the Tigers.
While the average viewership of the baseball game was significantly higher when it comes to overall viewers (7.8 million to 4.2 million), there can be no doubt that drawing such a huge rating in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic will open a lot of people’s eyes and will bring many new advertisers into the mix for the UFC in the future.
Final Chapter Draws Huge Ratings at the Same Time that TUF Hits New Lows
The huge rating that was drawn by The Final Chapter comes at a time when The Ultimate Fighter is hitting an all-time low in viewership up against competition that is no more difficult than the competition faced by previous seasons of TUF (see our separate article on TUF’s ratings).
The Final Chapter’s huge ratings serve as another reminder that there are an increasing number of fans out there who consider themselves “UFC fans” or “MMA fans,” but are not particularly interested in the fourth season of TUF for whatever reason.
It’s possible that many of the viewers who watched The Final Chapter on Tuesday will check out TUF on Thursday, and it would significantly help TUF’s ratings if even a small percentage of The Final Chapter’s audience were to sample TUF this week.
Ortiz-Shamrock Feud Was Not for Purists, but it Brought in the Dough
While most hardcore MMA fans were not particularly looking forward to Ortiz-Shamrock III, the fact remains that Ortiz vs. Shamrock is the biggest-drawing feud in United States MMA history, and this was further cemented by the monstrous rating that their third fight drew on Spike TV.
As previously reported by MMAWeekly, significant elements of the Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock feud were worked, specifically the constantly repeated claim that they really, really hated each other’s guts and could barely be in the same room without a fight breaking out.
None of their actual fights were worked in any way, but the feud itself was worked in the sense that their real-life dislike for each other was greatly embellished to draw money, and the embarrassing worked pull-apart scenarios on TUF 3 speak for themselves.
The business-oriented nature of Ortiz and Shamrock’s “hatred” towards each other was all-but-acknowledged immediately after Ortiz’ third victory over Shamrock on Tuesday night. After Ortiz flipped off Shamrock (in order to, as he put it, “put on the entertainment for the fans”), Shamrock approached Ortiz and could be heard on national television telling Ortiz, “It was all business, man. You and me made a lot of money together. It was all business.” Ortiz then said in his post-fight interview that he has always looked up to Shamrock.
To the millions of people watching at that moment, the vast majority of whom are casual MMA fans who watch the UFC on Spike TV but don’t follow the product closely enough to have already known that it was “all business,” that may have been a jarring thing to hear just minutes after they had watched video packages about how much Ortiz and Shamrock “really, really hated each other.”
If any of those fans feel misled by the nature of the rivalry itself, they would have every right to feel that way. If any fans took Shamrock’s comments to mean that any aspects of the actual Ortiz-Shamrock fights were worked, that would be unfortunate because that is not the case in any way, shape, or form. The actual fights themselves were completely legit.
This fight is another in a trend of UFC main events that were booked with the knowledge that one fighter was overwhelming likely to win (ie, Rich Franklin vs. Shamrock, Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie, Ortiz vs. Shamrock II, Ortiz vs. Shamrock III).
In that sense, the main difference between pro wrestling and this particular style of MMA promoting is that pro wrestling promoters can be 100% certain that the expected outcome will occur, whereas MMA promoters are still promoting shoot fights at the end of the day, so they can only be about 90% sure of the outcome even in the most lopsided of match-ups.
With Ken Shamrock’s UFC career coming to an end, he wasn’t able to go out on top from on an athletic standpoint, but he certainly was able to go out on top from a business standpoint, as his feud with Tito Ortiz is the biggest-drawing feud in the history of MMA in the United States.
WWE Over-Reacts to UFC’s Special and Ends Up with Little to Show for It
In part because the UFC often employs the aforementioned pro wrestling-style promoting strategies, and in part because the two companies target the same viewer demographics, the UFC’s biggest competition is WWE, and WWE’s biggest competition is the UFC, no matter how much that fact is denied or reviled by WWE, Zuffa, MMA fans, or pro wrestling fans.
When World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon found out that the UFC was running a high-profile live fight special on October 10th that was expected to exceed a 3.0 overall rating, he went into full-fledged “war mode” and scheduled two big shows to take place on the night before and the night of the UFC broadcast.
Of course, the ratings for one particular week of television are not going to make or break WWE, but by all accounts McMahon takes these kinds of things personally and is extremely competitive, compulsive, and aggressive.
Airing from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM on Sci-Fi Channel, WWE’s Tuesday night show was hyped for several weeks and featured the oldest ratings stunt in the book. In addition to the evening’s pro wrestling action, WWE heavily promoted a “live strip poker game” featuring the women of WWE.
Despite this ratings stunt, the show drew a 1.8 overall rating, which was not even an increase from the normal rating for WWE’s Tuesday night show. The UFC’s two-hour broadcast handily beat WWE’s broadcast on the same night, despite the fact that WWE had a much bigger marketing machine hyping its broadcast.
The night before UFC: The Final Chapter, WWE put on a special three-hour broadcast that was designed to draw a much-higher-than-usual rating and crush whatever rating the UFC broadcast might draw on Tuesday night. Airing from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM on Monday night on USA Network, the “WWE Raw Family Reunion” drew a 3.8 overall rating, which was barely up from WWE Raw’s recent average.
The 3.8 rating is hugely disappointing for WWE, which first failed in its goal to demolish the UFC with its Monday night rating and then actually lost by an embarrassing margin with its Tuesday night rating.
While WWE can still claim that it “beat the UFC” since the Raw Family Reunion drew a 3.8 overall rating compared to the UFC’s 3.1 overall rating, the UFC always has the last laugh in these sorts of battles with WWE due to the huge disparity in the American pay-per-view buyrates of the two companies.
WWE often surpasses the 4.0 mark with Raw on Monday nights, its pay-per-views struggle on a month-to-month basis to surpass 200,000 domestic PPV buys, and even the once-mighty WrestleMania drew just 560,000 American PPV buys this year.
Meanwhile, the UFC can air a well-produced PPV preview show on Spike TV that might not even draw a 1.0 overall rating for any of its individual airings, and then they draw 600,000+ PPV buys for UFC 60 and 775,000+ PPV buys for UFC 61.
The bottom line is that even though WWE has far more viewers on cable TV than the UFC, it’s equally true that the UFC has far more fans in the United States who are willing to actually spend money to buy PPV events. It’s not a matter of “when” the UFC will surpass WWE in this area: It has already happened.
Head-to-Head Network Competition
Airing head-to-head with UFC: The Final Chapter on Tuesday, October 10th in the 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM hour, ABC’s Dancing with the Stars led the way with a massive 13.2 overall rating, while the drama NCIS (no relation to CSI) held up fairly well with a 9.9 overall rating on CBS. A Major League Baseball playoff game on Fox drew a 5.0 overall rating in this hour, while NBC’s new drama Friday Night Lights drew a very disappointing 4.1 overall rating, which is the kind of number that will get it cancelled if the ratings don’t immediately improve.
Airing head-to-head with the UFC in the 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM hour, which is the hour that featured the Ortiz-Shamrock fight, CBS’ drama The Unit won a closely-contested battle with NBC’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, as The Unit drew an overall rating of 8.3 and Criminal Intent drew an overall rating of 7.9. The Major League Baseball playoff game on Fox improved significantly from a 5.0 rating in the previous hour to a 6.0 rating in this hour. The new ABC comedy Help Me Help You is going to need help if it wants to be around at this time next year, because it retained just over 50% of its Dancing with the Stars lead-in. While the show drew a 7.0 overall rating, which would normally be great for a comedy series, a 7.0 rating is considered disappointing when the lead-in show draws a 13.2 rating.