CageJunkies Editorial: Why TUF going back to being taped won’t help ratings and why everyone is ok with that
Let me start off this discussion with some caveats. This isn’t a hit job on The Ultimate Fighter. This isn’t a whack job on The Ultimate Fighter’s ratings this year. If you go back through our fine site you’ll never we never discuss the ratings of a show. Why? Because we don’t think non-hardcore fans care how well a show did in the ratings. We as fans should worry about the quality of a show, not how many Nielsen homes were tuned in. But for the next few moments I will indulge the hardcore fans in a conversation as to why The Ultimate Fighter’s “declining” ratings don’t matter. Let’s begin.
In the beginning there was The Ultimate Fighter season one. Back then there was no easily accessible way to catch free mixed martial arts action. You either traded tapes, found it on the internet, or you were out of luck. Then the little reality show that could appeared and gave established fans and the unaware masses a taste of free mixed martial arts. Even better then the fight that ended each episode were the intriguing storylines that made us interested in both the person and the fighter. This season’s live format made it harder to create those storylines, a fact that is being recognized by UFC in their return to a pre-taped format.
More important than the lack of storylines this season though may be the competition TUF has faced with an abundance of free promotional fights on television. With the FOX deal UFC had already managed to air four free full cards plus the prelims to three other cards before The Ultimate Fighter Live had even debuted. That was a total of seven UFC events I could watch on Fuel TV, FX and FOX before The Ultimate Fighter debut. During this season of TUF, UFC had another three free full cards plus the prelims to two other cards. Whereas TUF was the original gateway for many eventual UFC fans to become interested in the promotion, today it is merely a smaller tool in UFC’s arsenal to reel people in.
To the UFC the FOX deal (including The Ultimate Fighter), their Facebook deal and their YouTube deal are just hooks. Some hooks may be bigger, some may be sharper, but they are all intended to get you to want to buy pay-per-views. The Ultimate Fighter concept is a bit passe. This season’s live format was supposed to change that and make the show more exciting, instead it kept the ratings at the same levels as they were on Spike TV with new problems like overruns and the inability to craft storylines across a season. UFC president Dana White has even cited these as reasons why the show is going back to pre-taped. You know what he didn’t cite? Ratings. He mentioned that he may want to change days to help ratings, but not anything else.
So why would UFC or FX not want to mess with the show to make it better? Why does UFC still even have The Ultimate Fighter? Because it knows that they have the winning formula. Each week a million people tune in to watch The Ultimate Fighter, regardless of who the coaches are or what the storylines are. FX is happy too because they know that The Ultimate Fighter will draw more viewers than a re-airing of Hancock or X-Men 3 would. This is supported by FX spokesman Dominic Pagone who said among adults aged 18-49, FX’s ratings with “The Ultimate Fighter” improved 69 percent year over year. It went up 141 percent among men 18-49 year-over-year, Pagone added. And based on some comments made by White yesterday you realize that The Ultimate Fighter in America is part of a bigger puzzle to globalize the UFC brand. In his comments White explained he envisions TUF winners from around the world facing each other in a TUF World Cup. And a TUF World Cup would just give UFC more hooks to reel in potential pay-per-view buyers.
So fear not ratings gazers, The Ultimate Fighter is in fact going according to plan.