by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
In addition to having a record-breaking year with its pay-per-view sales, Zuffa has also had a record-breaking year thus far when it comes to the UFC’s live gate revenue.
However, Zuffa has not been able to consistently draw live crowds with its television (non-PPV) events, which is something that the company plans to change in the second half of 2006 by holding its TV events in different venues.
The UFC’s live gate figures in the first half of 2006 tell a tale of two companies. On one hand, the PPV events drew seven-figure live gates as the norm rather than the exception, but on the other hand, the TV events failed to consistently fill a venue that does not exude a major-league look on television even when it is full (The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas). Before analyzing the impressive live gate figures for the UFC’s big PPV events, we would be remiss if we didn’t first take a look at the not-so-impressive live gate figures for the non-PPV events.
The first UFC event of 2006 was Ultimate Fight Night 3, which took place on January 16th at The Joint in Las Vegas and was headlined by Tim Sylvia vs. Assuerio Silva. The event drew a strong 1.7 overall rating on Spike TV, and the paid attendance was 823.
There were a total of 1,008 fans in attendance when you include the 185 “comp” tickets that were given away. Comp tickets is a term that refers to free tickets, which are often given away in an attempt to make an event come across better on television, minimizing the risk of empty seats being visible on camera. The live gate for UFN 4 was $144,600.
The next TV event that was put on by the UFC was Ultimate Fight Night 4, which took place back at The Joint on April 6th and was headlined by Stephan Bonnar vs. Keith Jardine. This event was held on a Thursday night, which is not the best night of the week for drawing live crowds, but it was necessary because the two-hour live TV broadcast was meant to provide a strong lead-in for the third season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter.
The broadcast of Ultimate Fight Night 4 drew a 1.6 overall rating on Spike TV and did provide a strong lead-in for TUF 3, but it was not particularly successful at the live box office. The paid attendance for the event was just 687, and even with comp tickets to make it look better on television, there were still empty seats visible on TV because the total attendance was just 843. Despite the lower paid attendance, UFN 4 actually had a higher live gate than UFN 3 due to higher ticket prices, as it raked in $199,150 at the live box office.
While there’s no doubt that the show fulfilled its primary goal of boosting the premiere of TUF 3, there’s also no doubt that Zuffa would have liked to have been able to fill the venue so that there weren’t empty seats visible on television.
The live season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 3 took place on Saturday, June 24th at The Joint in Las Vegas once again, with the main event of Kenny Florian vs. Sam Stout (along with the TUF 3 finale fights).
Compared to the previous TV event, the ticket prices for this event were much higher, and the paid attendance was slightly higher. The paid attendance was 753, and with comps taken into account, the total attendance was 849. Again, the show fulfilled its primary goal, as it drew a huge TV rating of 2.0, but there were still empty seats visible on camera. With the higher ticket prices, the live gate for this event was up to $253,214.
Just four days later, the UFC was back at The Joint with Ultimate Fight Night 5, which was headlined by Anderson Silva vs. Chris Leben. Ultimate Fight Night 5 was able to provide a solid lead-in for Blade: The Series, which is the entire reason that the event was ordered for this particular date in the first place, but UFN 5 did not draw particularly strong ratings of its own (1.4 overall), and it did not perform well at the live gate.
Running a live fight event on a Wednesday night is great for helping Blade: The Series, but it’s not an ideal formula at the live box office. The paid attendance for this event was just 454, and even with comp tickets, the total number of fans in attendance was just 606. The venue was just over half-full, and the live gate for UFN 5 was $134,368. The combined live gate for the UFC’s TV events thus far in 2006 has been $731,332.
To help improve live attendance for its TV events in the future, the UFC plans to hold events in venues other than The Joint. This will start with the August 17th Spike TV broadcast in Las Vegas at the Red Rock Casino, which opened earlier this year and is a big new investment in the multi-billion-dollar Fertitta empire (Zuffa is a separate company that is also owned by the Fertittas).
While the live attendance for Zuffa’s non-PPV events has been less than stellar in 2006, the live attendance has been extraordinary for the company’s PPV events. The all-time live gate record for the UFC heading into 2006 was $2,575,450 for UFC 52, which took place in April 2005 and was headlined by the second fight between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture. That record was broken twice in the first five months of 2006, and the other two PPV events in the first half of 2006 also performed very well at the box office.
The third match-up between Liddell and Couture took place on February 4, 2006 at UFC 57 in Las Vegas. UFC 57 shattered the previous record of $2,575,450 with a live gate of $3,382,400. The paid attendance was 10,301, and with 358 comp tickets, the total attendance was 10,659.
Just one month later on March 4th, UFC 58 took place in Las Vegas and was headlined by Rich Franklin vs. David Loiseau. This event would have been considered a success at the live box office if it had been able to draw more than 7,000 in paid attendance, given the fact that it was taking place just four weeks after the huge event that was UFC 57, in the same city, and with ticket prices that were still higher than usual.
UFC 58 ended up surpassing just about everyone’s expectations at the live box office with 8,183 tickets sold. Combined with a large number of comp tickets (1,386), the total attendance in the building was 9,569.
It might not sound like a lot to have 8,183 tickets sold, but with the ticket prices being what they were, UFC 58 generated gross ticket sales of $1,758,450, which was the fifth-biggest live gate in UFC history at the time. To put that figure into perspective, even with far fewer fans in attendance, UFC 58 drew a bigger live gate than UFC 40, which was headlined by the huge fight between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock.
The next UFC PPV event was even more successful at the box office, though it continues to boggle the mind that Zuffa has not been entirely forthright about just how much of a success it was. The UFC made its debut in California with UFC 59 on April 15th at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. The event was ostensibly headlined by Andrei Arlovski vs. Tim Sylvia in a fight for the UFC Heavyweight Title, but the vast majority of the pre-event hype went to Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin.
The building was completely full when all was said and done, and it was a huge success at the box office. What’s puzzling is that Zuffa claimed from the first few days of ticket sales, and continues to claim to this day in the “History” section of its web site, that the event drew more than 17,000 fans. In fact, that is false. The legitimate figures, as released by the California State Athletic Commission, are 13,060 tickets sold, 754 comp tickets given away, and a total attendance of 13,814. That was the venue’s maximum capacity, given the large space occupied up by the Octagon.
The live gate for the event was a hugely impressive $2,191,450, which was the fourth-biggest live gate in UFC history at the time.
As mentioned in yesterday’s article about the UFC’s 2006 pay-per-view sales, UFC 60 was hailed as the event that would break all of the UFC’s records in PPV buyrates, paid attendance, and live gate revenue. The event took place on May 27th at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. While UFC 60 did absolutely decimate the UFC’s previous record for PPV buys, it did not break the live gate or paid attendance records.
Due in part to higher prices, ticket sales were fairly slow for the event, which had a maximum capacity of 16,947 in the venue. This produced another puzzling scenario, as it was said over a half-dozen times on the UFC 60 PPV broadcast that the event was “sold out.” In fact, it was nowhere close to sold out, but it still ended up drawing a huge live gate. Out of a possible 16,947, the number of tickets sold was actually 10,347.
Massive amounts of free tickets were given away for several weeks before the event so that it would look good for the cameras, and the number of people who showed up with comp tickets ended up being 4,418. In total, there were 14,765 fans in the building, although 30 percent of them had free tickets.
Ultimately, what matters most to the bottom line is that the people who did pay for their tickets paid a lot of money for them. Even though there were several thousand fewer tickets sold for UFC 60 than there were for UFC 59, UFC 60 had the bigger live gate by over $700,000.
The live gate for UFC 60 was $2,900,090, which made it the second-biggest live gate in UFC history, behind only Liddell vs. Couture III. In terms of total revenue, UFC 60 was the biggest show in UFC history by a wide margin, with at least $23.97 million in gross PPV revenue alone.
The gross live gate revenue from the first four UFC PPVs of the year was $10,232,390. When combined with the gross PPV revenue for these four events, which was between $66.67 million and $68.22 million (as fully detailed in yesterday’s article), the gross PPV and live gate revenue for these four events was between $76.90 million and $78.45 million. Live gate figures for UFC 61, which took place last Saturday, are not yet available.