UFC Prelims Are A Mistake That Are Hurting Television Ratings

MMA Junkie is reporting that the Spike TV ‘UFC Prelims’ specials are likely to return to in 2011, with UFC President Dana White saying that “We’ll get that figured out…I love having the prelims on Spike TV. … It’s cool to give people some free fights and then have them bounce over (to the PPVs)”. The hour broadcasts have become something of a fixture since being introduced in September 2009, with fans getting used to Spike showing two live prelim fights whilst the UFC heavily encouraged them to buy the night’s pay per view. Following UFC 103, a further eleven UFC events have had such a lead-in.

Whilst its always good to watch extra fights on television, to me the UFC is making a mistake in seeking to continue showing prelim fights live on Spike. There is no evidence that they are effective in encouraging late buys, with no signs of any correlation between the viewing figures for  ‘UFC Prelims’ and the commercial success of the PPV that follows. Plus showing prelims on Spike has often left the PPV short, with the UFC having to repeat matches that have already been broadcast on Spike.

But the real problems are in the damaging consequences of the ‘UFC Prelims’ specials are having on other UFC programming on Spike. Practically the demand for two matches that can credibly be shown live on television has seen the UFC add matches to pay per view undercards that would be better used as featured matches on Fight Night events. Look at the UFC 121 Prelims specials – does anybody doubt that the post-tournament debut of TUF 11 winner Court McGee would not have added some much needed star power to September 15th’s little watched Ultimate Fight Night 22? And that is not an isolated example, we’ve repeatedly seen the ‘UFC Prelim’ specials take away the very TUF alumnus that have previously helped the UFC draw successful viewing figures for its live television specials.

But on a more profound level, showing prelims live on Spike undermines the value of live fights. Live television broadcasts should be reserved for fights that have been thoroughly promoted, in front of a packed arena that came to see them. They should in short, be a big deal to the organization and the fans in attendance. That is simply not the case with ‘UFC Prelims’, these are fights that will have been ignored as the UFC rightly focuses on promoting the event’s main card whilst the arena is often half empty due to many fans arriving later in the event. Using live television to show a couple of seemingly random fights in front of a disinterested crowd the hour before the ‘real show’ starts tells fans that in the eyes of the UFC television fights are second rate, the warm up for what everyone really wants to watch. That’s not a message the UFC should be sending to its viewers and is why they should think again before continuing with UFC Prelims.

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