Weekly MMA Digest (Week of April 23)
So, how popular is MMA (and UFC in particular) these days? Let's take a look at some of the numbers that came out this week:
-- Spike TV released viewership numbers for UFC 70 earlier this week. While the numbers were good, I wasn't blown away by them, especially considering this was a PPV-caliber show airing on basic cable. The telecast averaged 2.8 million viewers and peaked at 3.5 million viewers for the main event fight between Mirko Filipovic and Gabriel Gonzaga. These numbers are considerably lower than what the Spike TV live telecast of Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock did last Fall (average viewership for that event came in at over 4 million viewers with a peak of over 5.5 million.) Still, according to Spike TV, UFC 70 drew more viewers in the desired 18-34 male demographic than any other show during that time period on either broadcast or cable TV.
I think UFC 70 viewership was hindered by the fact that there were no title fights on the card and the card was tape-delayed by about 8 hours (meaning some fans already knew the results of the fights at the time of the telecast.) In addition, I think the card wasn't as strong as the UFC 68 or UFC 69 cards, with a couple of very good but relatively unknown fighters such as Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabricio Werdum in the two main fights. I think another factor is that UFC 70 took place only two weeks after UFC 69, so maybe fans had had their fill of UFC PPV-quality events for the month.
-- According to an MMAWeekly report by Ivan Trembow, TUF viewership is apparently on the decline, with TUF 5 numbers approaching TUF 4's low benchmark. This is a bit disturbing to me, because I think TUF 5 is actually quite good. It's possible that the TUF show is now played out in the minds of fans or that two seasons a year is just too many for even the hardcore MMA fans. The TUF numbers -- as well as the UFC 70 numbers -- possibly hint at the notion of UFC overexposure, though it is way too early to make that claim. Still, is too much of a good thing always a good thing?
-- The news does get better for UFC. According to a recent study conducted by Complete.com charting hits on major sports league websites, UFC is the sixth most popular sports league on the web, currently dueling NHL for the fifth spot. UFC.com is averaging about 1 million hits per month, which is an increase of 106% over last year (this percentage increase makes UFC the fastest growing league on the web.) While UFC still has a lot of work to do to catch up with the fourth-place NBA, this is undoubtedly great news for the MMA promotion and indicates that interest level in the league and the sport is still increasing at a torrid pace.
-- Alas, the good news is somewhat tempered by the revelation this week that fighters in both UFC 69 and UFC 70 were NOT drug-tested. Steve Sievert broke this news over at the Houston Chronicle and he did some fantastic reporting on this one. Apparently, mix-ups in Texas with the state licensing board did in the testing at UFC 69 and MMA is not currently sanctioned in the UK which resulted in the lack of testing at UFC 70.
Regardless, UFC should be prepared for such possibilities and have a procedure in place to do their own comprehensive testing when the licensing boards are not equipped to do so (preferably, the promotion will contract out the testing to an independent third-party tester). I'll give UFC a pass on this one because growing pains are inevitable. However, drug use is front-and-center in sports in this country and this sort of revelation doesn't help the UFC. Hopefully, the promotion will rectify the issue quickly and we won't hear about this sort of negligence again. Integrity in the sport is very important as MMA tries to gain mainstream acceptance. Dana White has done some amazing things over the last couple of years but this is a misstep that should be handled swiftly.