The ratings are in for the first live season of The Ultimate Fighter and they aren’t good. 1.3 million viewers tuned in (& out) for The Ultimate Fighter: Live falling way short of past season debut averages on Spike TV.
I am not a big fan of ratings but I think there is a story here. The 1.3 million may sound impressive to anyone unfamiliar with past TUF seasons. However, a further look back at past seasons shows an average of 2 million viewers who tuned in to Spike for season premieres. As bad as that sounds, and it is bad, the bigger story here is the pattern throughout the show.
It is an even bigger fail when you take a look back at the statements Dana White made in November about the future of the program.
“We’ll more than double that when we go onto FX. I mean we’ll probably have more than 3 million viewers on FX watching the ‘Ultimate Fighter.”
I have to admit that I was one of those viewers. I consider myself a big MMA fan but I lost interest in TUF 15 fast. I have never liked the preliminary fights to get into the house and it appears I am not in the minority. I look at it like this. If I wanted to watch two hours of amateur MMA fighting, I’d find a local show to attend on a Saturday night. Watching amateur MMA fights with poor technique, no commentary, taking place inside a gym is nothing that interests me or the casual MMA fan.
There is just something about the never ending loop of amateur fighting that turned me off to these preliminary fights. Maybe if the fights had some commentary to at least give me some background on the fighters, I may find a fight or two that I could invest some emotional interest in. Otherwise I am just watching two guys in an empty gym with no context.
With that said, even The Ultimate Fighter season premieres in the past with preliminary fights did better than this show. So why the huge drop off as compared to previous seasons? I think Friday night has a huge part in it. The core audience for this kind of show is probably out or busy on Friday nights. Moving away from Wednesday or Thursdays could be a bigger misstep than anyone realized.
The coaches did a horrendous job on Friday night of keeping the audience. We have been told for weeks about all of this animosity between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber. Yet all I saw when I tuned watched the show on Friday night was two guys joking around and having a good time during the fights. Whether they really hate each or not, they completely lost sight of the fact that they were there to make good television. It was boring and did nothing to sell the show, the fighters, and their upcoming fight.
I know that MMA fans hate when pro wrestling creeps into their sport but you need a little bit of pro wrestling between coaches to make this concept work. There is a reason that Rampage Jackson vs. Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock were two of the biggest fights in UFC history. Those guys and others (Matt Serra, Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, Michael Bisping) all knew how to play the game. If you aren’t going to play the game, stay home.
The whole “live” aspect of TUF means nothing to me as a longtime TUF viewer. I know it was supposed to be this ground breaking change but in reality, it makes no difference whatsoever to the show. The one thing that the UFC does probably better than any other reality show is keep their spoilers under wraps. I can’t remember any previous season having leaks. With no leaks, it makes no difference whether the show is live or taped to me or anyone else.
I also think that there is a big lesson learned here, specifically for some bloggers and reporters that predicted the doom and gloom of WWE Friday Night SmackDown when it was announced that the UFC would move TUF to Friday nights. One has nothing to do with the other. The audiences don’t mix and SmackDown’s ratings actually went up this past week on the debut week. Even TNA Wrestling’s live ratings were better than UFC Fight Night broadcasts when both were on Spike. Can we please refrain from connecting these two audiences in the future?
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