by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
The live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 3 tied the UFC’s all-time ratings record with a 2.0 overall rating on Saturday, June 24th.
Previously, the ratings barrier of 2.0 had only been broken by one live fight special in UFC history, and that was the TUF 2 live finale on November 5th, 2005.
Three individual episodes of The Ultimate Fighter also drew overall ratings of 2.0 (two episodes from the first season, and one episode from the third season). This puts the TUF 3 finale in a five-way tie for the highest-rated UFC broadcast of any kind in the history of the company.
Records Broken in the Two Most Coveted Age Groups
Even more impressive than the overall rating is the fact that the three-hour TUF 3 live finale broke the UFC’s all-time ratings records in the two most coveted demographics to advertisers: 18-to-34-year-old males, and 18-to-49-year-old males.
In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, breaking the 3.0 barrier is a feat that is not achieved by many shows on network television, much less cable television. In this demographic, the TUF 3 finale drew a rating of 3.8. The previous UFC record of 3.7 was set by the TUF 2 finale. The TUF 1 finale drew a 3.3 rating in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, and the first four “Ultimate Fight Night” live specials on Spike TV averaged a 2.4 rating in this demographic
In the 18-to-49-year-old demographic, which of course consists of the 18-to-34-year-old age group, but also includes an age group that doesn’t watch MMA anywhere near as much (35-to-49-year-olds), the TUF 3 finale came the closest that any UFC programming has ever come to hitting the 3.0 barrier. The TUF 3 finale drew a 2.9 rating in this demographic, beating the previous UFC record of 2.7, which was set by both the TUF 1 finale and the TUF 2 finale. The first four Ultimate Fight Night live specials on Spike TV averaged a 2.0 in this demographic.
In both of these key demographics, the TUF 3 finale was the most-watched show on television during the three-hour period between 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM on June 24th, and that includes network television in addition to cable television. Needless to say, this is the kind of achievement that gets advertisers’ attention and will undoubtedly lead to increases in the ad rates for future seasons of The Ultimate Fighter (the cost of a 30-second commercial on TUF 3 was $3,500).
Pacing of Live Broadcasts is Still Leaving Money on the Table
If there were any problems with the TUF 3 finale broadcast, the actual fighting wasn’t one of them. Kenny Florian, Michael Bisping, and Matt Hamill each looked absolutely dominant in their respective fights, while Kendall Grove vs. Ed Herman turned out to be a Fight of the Year candidate.
The production values and announcers were also not the problem, as the UFC’s production crew and commentators are now a well-oiled machine when it comes to live fight specials.
The problem with the UFC’s live fight specials continues to be the pacing. Make no mistake about it: This is not about commercials. A 180-minute television broadcast is going to have approximately 132 minutes of broadcast time and approximately 48 minutes of commercials, and that’s just how television works. The issue is what happens in those 132 minutes of broadcast time, and in the UFC’s case, there is far too much time in between fights.
As high as the ratings were for the TUF 3 finale, there should be no doubt that the ratings would have been even higher if not for the overly long gaps in between fights. This has to be a conscious decision, because it would have been very simple to correct by now if Zuffa and Spike TV wanted to do so. More undercard fights could easily be shown in the 132 minutes of broadcast time on a three-hour special, but instead viewers get more interviews with various people at ringside, or three video packages instead of two, and so on.
In the case of this particular broadcast, there was a 27-minute gap between the end of the Jardine-Gouveia fight (9:33 PM) and the beginning of the Grove-Herman fight (10:00 PM). Then there was a 40-minute gap between the end of the Grove-Herman fight (10:18 PM) and the beginning of the Bisping-Haynes fight (10:58 PM), a gap that would have still been over 30 minutes even if you don’t take into account Randy Couture’s well-deserved induction into the UFC’s Hall of Fame. There was then a 28-minute gap between the end of the Bisping-Haynes fight (11:10 PM) and the beginning of the Florian-Stout fight (11:38 PM). The Florian-Stout fight ended quickly at 11:40 PM, and even though there were no more live fights left to air (meaning that they could choose any prelim fights they wanted), the Hamill-Forbes fight didn’t start airing until 11:50 PM.
To you and I, this isn’t a big deal. If you’re a hardcore MMA fan, you’re going to keep watching anyway.
The issue from a ratings standpoint is that for the many people who are flipping channels and stumble upon the broadcast, and for the many people who are casual MMA fans, and for the many people who are just curious because they’ve heard about MMA but still haven’t seen it, 40-minute gaps in between fights are just not going to cut it. Neither will 25-minute gaps in between fights, for that matter.
A certain percentage of those viewers are simply not going to stick around, or are going to be much more likely to only catch bits and pieces of the broadcast.
The lackluster job of pacing is flat-out leaving money on the table. An excellent overall rating of 2.0 would have undoubtedly been even higher if not for the aforementioned viewers who stopped watching the show or watched much less of it. Again, this has to be a conscious decision, because improving the pacing by showing more undercard fights would not be a particularly complicated or difficult thing to do.
At the same time, the strong ratings that are drawn by the UFC’s live fight specials are all the more impressive when you consider the fact that they’re drawing these strong numbers despite the pacing issues.
If you’re turning off a certain percentage of your potential viewership with unnecessarily long gaps in between fights, and you’re still drawing a 2.0 overall rating even without these potential viewers, you’re in pretty good shape.