Partnerships only work, though, if they help both sides and there is little doubt that being on ESPN will enhance the UFC.
One doesn’t need to look much further than the ratings a super lightweight championship boxing match between Maurice Hooker and Alex Saucedo delivered in November.
The fight wasn’t a heavily promoted bout. Neither fighter was widely known by the general audience. It was a one-bout Top Rank card, and it started at nearly midnight Eastern time.
Yet, it did an average rating of 950,000 viewers with a 0.6 household rating, which was 20 percent higher than Top Rank’s 2018 average on ESPN. The fight also peaked at 1.05 million, almost unheard of in this era for a fight of that level going on at the time it did.
The fight followed an NBA game and fans stuck with it and there was not a huge audience decline.
That’s what the UFC can expect when it appears on ESPN.
The broadcasts will look remarkably similar to those on Fox, because UFC is controlling the production and most of the talent will be the same. But the UFC is fishing where the fish are, and figure to be able to nab sports fans who watch ESPN but who haven’t regularly watched UFC shows before.
Top Rank has gotten the kind of marketing push and accompanying shoulder programming that ESPN will give to the UFC, and it’s thrived and attracted a younger audience than boxing traditionally had received.
The UFC already brings that young demographic; ESPN may help it add viewers who are outside of the 18-to-34-year-old demo that has been its lifeblood to this point in its history.