by Ivan Trembow – MMAWeekly.com
On the same week in which UFC 70 drew a strong overall rating of 1.8 on Spike TV, the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter continued its ratings collapse with the lowest-rated episode to date.
The three-hour, tape-delayed broadcast of UFC 70 on April 21st was the fifth-highest-rated UFC broadcast out of the fourteen UFC fight specials that have aired on Spike TV since the beginning of 2005. Five nights later, the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter 5 drew an overall rating of 1.0.
UFC 70’S RATINGS VS. UFC’S PREVIOUS RATINGS
Compared to the UFC’s average-to-date for fight specials headed into this event, UFC 70 showed increases across the board. The UFC’s average-to-date for its previous fourteen fight specials was a 1.7 overall rating, and UFC 70 drew a 1.8 overall rating.
In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, the UFC’s average-to-date was a 2.8 rating, and UFC 70 rating in this demographic was 3.2.
In the 18-to-49-year-old male demographic, the UFC’s average-to-date was a 2.2 rating, and UFC 70 rating in this demographic was 2.6.
The high ratings for UFC 70 came just sixteen days after the disappointing ratings for UFC Fight Night 9 on Spike TV, which makes UFC 70’s viewership all the more impressive by comparison.
The overall rating of 1.8 for UFC 70 is significantly higher than the 1.2 overall rating that was drawn by UFC Fight Night 9, and is only surpassed in the UFC’s history on Spike TV by TUF 1’s live finale (1.9), TUF 2’s live finale (2.0), TUF 3’s live finale (2.0), and The Final Chapter with Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock (3.1).
In the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic, UFC 70’s rating of 3.2 was literally double UFC Fight Night 9’s rating of 1.6. The only UFC fight specials to have ever drawn higher ratings in this demographic were TUF 1’s finale (3.3), TUF 2’s finale (3.7), TUF 3’s finale (3.8), and The Final Chapter (6.0).
In the broader demographic of 18-to-49-year-old males, UFC 70’s rating of 2.6 was significantly higher than UFC Fight Night 9’s rating of 1.5, and higher than any UFC fight special to have ever aired on Spike TV other than TUF 1’s finale (2.7), TUF 2’s finale (2.7), TUF 3’s finale (2.9), and The Final Chapter (4.5).
RATINGS FOR EACH SPECIFIC FIGHT
The UFC 70 broadcast started off with the fight between Cheick Kongo and Assuerio Silva, and that particular fight drew a 1.7 rating, which is a good rating for the traditionally low-rated first fight of the broadcast.
After a 17-minute gap, the preliminary fight between Terry Etim and Matt Grice started airing. Etim vs. Grice drew a 1.9 rating, which is an impressive rating for a match-up of two fighters who were making their UFC debuts.
Following a 27-minute gap in between fights, the fight between Michael Bisping and Elvis Sinosic started airing. Surprisingly, this fight did not build on the previous fight’s rating, as it also drew a 1.9 rating. The last time there was a “live” Bisping fight on Spike TV, his TUF 3 finale match-up against Josh Haynes drew a much higher 2.5 rating.
After a 24-minute gap, the fight between Andrei Arlovski and Fabricio Werdum started airing. Even though it was not the most thrilling of fights, Arlovski vs. Werdum drew a strong 2.2 rating. This was the first time in over six months (since October 10, 2006) that any fight on any UFC broadcast drew a rating of 2.0 or higher.
Twenty-five minutes later, the main event bout of Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko Cro Cop started airing, and this fight also drew an impressive 2.2 rating.
The aforementioned long gaps in between fights drew lower ratings than the fights themselves, which is why the three-hour broadcast’s overall average rating was 1.8.
Although it was hyped at the beginning of the show, the fight between Ryoto Machida and David Heath did not air on Spike TV, nor were any highlights or explanations offered to viewers.
In addition, the entire UFC 70 broadcast was inaccurately billed as live, as the words “Spike TV LIVE” were displayed in the corner of the screen at all times, despite the fact that no portion of the broadcast was actually live. It was not live-to-tape either, as there were numerous post-production voice-overs leading into and out of commercial breaks, the Etim-Grice fight was inserted after the Kongo-Silva fight as if it were also live, and the Machida-Heath fight was edited out entirely.
UFC 70 VS. NASCAR VS. MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL VS. NBA
UFC 70 on Spike TV out-drew the NBA, Major League Baseball, and NASCAR on Saturday, April 21st in the UFC’s strongest demographic, as there were 885,000 males between the ages of 18 and 34 who watched UFC 70.
In terms of overall viewership, UFC 70 drew 2.8 million viewers. On the same weekend, a Saturday night NASCAR race on Fox drew 7.6 million viewers; Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN drew 5.5 million viewers; Saturday afternoon baseball on Fox drew 4.7 million viewers; and a first-round NBA Playoffs game on Sunday afternoon drew 4.3 million viewers.
The first-round NBA Playoffs game that aired on ESPN head-to-head with UFC 70 barely out-drew UFC 70 in overall viewership, with a 2.0 overall rating compared to UFC 70’s overall rating of 1.8. Ratings for the NBA in general are down drastically from what they were ten years ago for Michael Jordan’s sixth and final championship season.
THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER’S RATINGS COLLAPSE
Episode Four of TUF 5 drew an overall rating of just 1.0 on Thursday, April 26th. The episode went head-to-head with the NBA Playoffs, but so did several episodes of The Ultimate Fighter 3, which was the most-watched season in the history of TUF.
The overall rating of 1.0 has the dubious distinction of being tied with several episodes of TUF 4 as the lowest-rated episodes in series history. The first four episodes of TUF 5 have drawn overall ratings of 1.4, 1.3, 1.2, and 1.0, respectively.
Perhaps more alarming than the drop in overall viewership was the drastic drop in viewership among the advertiser-coveted demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males. In that demographic, TUF 5 had been averaging a 1.9 rating in its first three episodes (which was already the lowest average in TUF history), but Episode Four drew a 1.1 rating in this demographic. The average for TUF 4 in this demographic was 2.0, and the average for TUF 3 was 2.9.
The same pattern emerged in the viewership patterns of the slightly broader demographic of 18-to-49-year-old males. In that demographic, TUF 5 had been averaging a series-low 1.7 rating through three episodes, but Episode Four drew a 1.1 rating in this demographic as well. The average for TUF 4 in this demographic was 1.6, and the average for TUF 3 was 2.2.
WHAT THE RATINGS COLLAPSE MEANS FOR THE UFC, SPIKE TV, AND ADVERTISERS
The fact that TUF 5’s ratings are lower than previous seasons’ ratings is disappointing for the UFC and Spike TV, but the fact that TUF 5’s ratings are lower than the advertiser-quoted expectations is what’s likely to actually cost money for the UFC and Spike TV. The overall ratings for TUF 5 (an average of 1.2 through four episodes) are significantly lower than the ratings that the show’s advertisers were told to expect according to the Wrestling Observer, which reported for the season premiere an advertiser expectation of a 1.7 overall rating. If the advertising contracts for TUF 5 are structured like most ad deals in the TV industry, the show’s advertisers are going to be getting refund checks, make-good spots (basically free commercial slots to make up for the lower viewership) or a combination of both.
With the continued drop in viewership, many fans of the sport have asked via e-mail and message boards whether TUF will be cancelled. The answer is “no,” and not necessarily because the ratings are strong enough that it would be completely out of the question based on the ratings alone. If for no other reason, Spike TV is unlikely to cancel TUF because the UFC as a whole is too valuable to Spike TV.
The relationship between the UFC and Spike TV is currently in a crucial time period, as negotiations for the UFC’s new contract (and new rights fees) will be starting in the not-too-distant future if they haven’t already gotten underway. Spike TV’s contract with the UFC expires in the middle of 2008, and the UFC is going to want to secure higher rights fees for the TV programming that it produces, either from Spike TV or from other networks.
The collapse of TUF’s ratings does lower the amount of money that the UFC is going to be able to get from Spike TV or any other network for the rights to air its programming. At the same time, Spike TV doesn’t want to do anything that would alienate or upset the UFC (such as canceling TUF) because its leverage in negotiations is limited by the fact that the UFC is Spike’s #1 provider of original programming.
While these negotiations play out over the next several months, TUF 6 and TUF 7 were already ordered in early 2006, which was the last time that the UFC extended its contract with Spike TV. These two seasons of TUF are likely to air regardless of how high or low the ratings are, as the UFC’s management has stated numerous times in the past that they do not believe in “overexposure.”
The sixth season of TUF is scheduled to begin filming before the fifth season finishes airing, and it will have a premiere date of August or September 2007. The seventh season of TUF will air sometime in the first half of 2008, which means that it’s either going to be filmed in late 2007 for a January 2008 premiere date, or it’s going to be filmed in January 2008 for an April 2008 premiere date.
HEAD-TO-HEAD NETWORK COMPETITION; PLUS OTHER SPIKE TV RATINGS FROM APRIL 26TH
Airing head-to-head on network television with Episode 4 of The Ultimate Fighter 5 on Thursday, April 26th, a new episode of NBC’s “ER” came in third place in its timeslot for just the second time in the series’ history (the first time was last week). The overall rating of 6.2 for “ER” was beaten by ABC’s “October Road,” which drew a 6.4 overall rating, and by CBS’ “Shark,” which drew a 9.4 overall rating. The lead-in for “ER” on NBC is now “Scrubs” (which drew an embarrassing 3.0 overall rating), and this has only served to accelerate the series’ rapid decline. In the same timeslot, CBS has a new hit on its hands with “Shark,” and the consistent 6’s that have been drawn by “October Road” may or may not be enough to warrant a second season order from ABC.
Episode Four of TUF 5 was preceded on Spike by TNA Impact, which drew the same overall rating as TUF (1.0). The episode of UFC Unleashed that followed TUF on April 26th drew an overall rating of 0.8.