The partnership, despite an official start date of January 2012, kicked off with UFC on Fox Primetime: Velasquez vs. dos Santos on Sunday. The one-hour behind-the-scenes special was sandwiched in with Fox’s typical Sunday football coverage, hoping to leverage the power of the NFL.
The television ratings for UFC on Fox Primetime were higher than any previous episode of UFC Primetime, but not as high as might be expected considering the ratings the NFL draws. UFC on Fox Primetime drew a 1.3 household rating, which translates into 2.0 million viewers, according to industry sources.
In comparison, UFC Primetime: Lesnar vs. Velasquez peaked at 1.2 million viewers for the final episode in the series.
UFC on Fox Primetime broke from the mold utilized on Spike TV, where the Primetime series was typically shown in three 30-minute episodes over a three-week period. UFC on Fox Primetime aired in a single one-hour episode, serving as a build-up to UFC on Fox 1: Velasquez vs. dos Santos on Nov. 12. UFC on Fox 1 will be a one-hour telecast featuring a single fight, the UFC heavyweight championship between titleholder Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior dos Santos.
Despite a significant bump in viewership over the Primetime episodes that aired on Spike, the UFC on Fox Primetime seems not to have gained much steam from Fox’s NFL coverage. The episode aired around Fox’s main NFL game, which drew 17 million viewers, although that was considered an off-week for the NFL on Fox, which often draws more than 20 million viewers when they air a marquee match-up.
The numbers were likely a bit of a disappointment to UFC and Fox officials. Both parties are very high on this new partnership and expect to do big business together.
“One of my golden rules is never predict ratings because it’s a zero sum game,” said Fox Sports chairman David Hill, when asked if he expected they would outdraw Kimbo Slice on CBS, which drew more than six million viewers. “If I was a betting man, which I am, I’d probably put a couple of bucks on the fact that we will.”
UFC president Dana White wasn’t so tempered in his enthusiasm, saying, “I’m not going to be too cocky here and trump what David Hill said, but I’ll tell you right now, I’m expecting to blow that number out of the water.”
While UFC on Fox Primetime didn’t break the bank on numbers, it’s also a promotional show, not the fight itself. The proof will be in the pudding, as they say, when UFC on Fox 1 airs on Nov. 12 and we find out how many fans tune in.