by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
Last week, MMAWeekly took a look at the fighter salaries for UFC 62, which took place on August 26th in Las Vegas. While pay-per-view buyrate information is not yet available for UFC 62 due to the fact that it takes weeks or months for such numbers to be finalized, we do have the initial estimates on UFC 61’s PPV buyrate and the final numbers on UFC 60’s PPV buyrate.
The news is excellent for the UFC, as just seven weeks after one of its PPV events generated more than $20 million for the first time in the history of the UFC, the company’s next PPV generated over $30 million in gross sales, blowing away all previous records.
The initial buyrate estimate for UFC 61 within the pay-per-view industry, as published by the Wrestling Observer, is that the show drew a whopping 775,000 PPV buys. The Observer has been one of the most credible publications for many years when it comes to PPV buyrates, and 775,000 PPV buys at $39.95 per buy equals $30.96 million in gross PPV revenue. The UFC’s share of the gross revenue for this and all other PPV events is approximately 50 percent, and all of the PPV figures in this article only take into account domestic PPV buys, which is where the majority of the UFC’s PPV buys originate.
The initial buyrate estimates within the PPV industry are always lower than the final numbers, due to the fact that the final numbers take into account “late buys.” Late buys is a term that refers to encore PPV buys of an event’s replays throughout the month that it debuted, as well as PPV buys from smaller cable systems throughout the United States, and these late buys typically take several months to be fully reported in the inefficient cable industry.
The PPV industry’s initial buyrate estimates, as first published by the Wrestling Observer, combined with MMAWeekly’s own sources in the PPV industry, who are more familiar with the updated numbers that have “late buys” taken into account, are the basis of this article and MMAWeekly’s previous article on the UFC’s PPV buyrate explosion of 2006.
The main event of UFC 61 was technically Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski for the UFC Heavyweight Title, but the vast majority of the hype for the event was dedicated to the rematch between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, which was hyped on national television for several consecutive months during the airing The Ultimate Fighter 3 on Spike TV.
The mark of 775,000 PPV buys for UFC 61 shatters the previous all-time UFC record that had been set by UFC 60, which had broken the record set by UFC 59, which had broken the record set by UFC 57. In total, four of the UFC’s first five PPVs of 2006 broke the company’s all-time PPV records, as detailed in our previous article on this subject.
The initial buyrate estimate for UFC 60 within the pay-per-view industry, as published by the Wrestling Observer and MMAWeekly at the time, was 600,000 buys. MMAWeekly has subsequently learned that the final buyrate for UFC 60 will be in the range of 615,000 to 625,000 buys, which is actually not that much of an increase over the initial buyrate estimate. In total, the gross PPV revenue for UFC 60 was between $24.57 million and $24.97 million. The event, headlined by Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie, was the first UFC event to break the $20 million mark in gross PPV sales.
The first three UFC PPVs of 2006 were also extremely successful. As previously detailed, UFC 57 in February broke all of the UFC’s records at the time by drawing 400,000 to 410,000 PPV buys. With the main event of Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture III, the event generated between $15.98 million and $16.38 million in gross PPV sales. Impressive as these numbers were and still are, they have now been dwarfed by the PPV sales for UFC 60 and UFC 61.
UFC 58 in March was headlined by Rich Franklin vs. David Loiseau, and though it did not break UFC 57’s record, the event still drew 290,000 to 300,000 PPV buys, which far exceeded the PPV industry’s pre-event expectations. UFC 58 carried a fee of $34.95 instead of $39.95, and the gross PPV revenue was between $10.14 million and $10.49 million. When the lowest-drawing PPV event of the year still generates over $10 million in gross PPV sales,
UFC 59 in April was technically headlined by Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski, but the vast majority of the hype was dedicated to the semi-main event of Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin. Though it was expected to draw a strong PPV buyrate, UFC 59 surpassed those lofty expectations by breaking the records that had been set by UFC 57. The total number of buys for UFC 59 was in the range of 415,000 to 435,000, which generated gross PPV revenue of $16.58 million to $17.38 million.
Adding up all of the aforementioned figures and not counting the “late buys” for UFC 61, the total number of PPV buys for the first five UFC PPVs of 2006 was between 2,495,000 and 2,545,000. Taking into account the fact that UFC 58 was priced at $34.95 instead of $39.95, this means that the gross PPV revenue generated by the first five UFC PPVs of 2006 was between $96,230,000 and $100,180,000.
As we’ve mentioned in the past, even though they promote two different products, the single company with which the UFC most directly competes is World Wrestling Entertainment, and the changing fortunes of both companies has led to a shift in the pay-per-view industry at large. In less than one year, the UFC has gone from not being able to even approach WWE’s big-event PPV numbers to actually beating WrestleMania in domestic PPV sales on two separate occasions over the course of one summer.
WrestleMania has been the biggest American pro wrestling event of the year since 1985, and this year’s WrestleMania drew approximately 560,000 domestic PPV buys, according to WWE’s own financial records. That number is less than UFC 60’s PPV buyrate and is not even close to UFC 61’s.
The Royal Rumble, which is traditionally the second- or third-biggest American pro wrestling event of the year, drew approximately 340,000 domestic PPV buys, which is lower than all-but-one of the UFC’s PPV events so far this year.
Outside of its four biggest events of the year (WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series), WWE’s domestic PPV buyrates have collapsed in the past few years and even more so in 2006, just as the UFC’s PPV buyrates have skyrocketed.
The non “Big Four” PPVs that WWE produces on a monthly basis have not been able to surpass the mark of 200,000 domestic buys for any individual event so far in 2006, while a UFC PPV that draws 200,000 domestic buys would now have to be considered a big disappointment given the standard that has been set in recent months.
According to WWE’s financial statements, the No Way Out PPV drew approximately 140,000 domestic buys; Backlash drew approximately 130,000 domestic buys; Judgment Day drew approximately 140,000 domestic buys; One Night Stand drew approximately 170,000 domestic buys; Vengeance drew approximately 190,000 PPV buys; and the Great American Bash drew approximately 130,000 PPV buys. Pay-per-view sales information for this year’s edition of SummerSlam is not yet available.
What’s clear in these figures is that the UFC’s many shows on Spike TV, not only The Ultimate Fighter but also the regular airings of older fights on UFC Unleashed and the well-produced PPV preview shows, do a much better job of convincing people to buy PPV events than WWE’s five hours of weekly original programming (one hour on Sci Fi Channel, two hours on USA Network, and two hours on UPN, which will soon become The CW Network).
Though WWE still draws significantly higher television ratings than the UFC, more and more people in the United States are willing to plunk down 40 dollars to buy the UFC’s pay-per-view events, while an ever-shrinking amount of people are willing to spend the same amount of money to buy WWE’s PPV events.