By Paul Fontaine, WrestlingObserver.com
On Monday, Ben Miller looked at the relationship between Fox Sports 1, FOX and UFC, comparing it to ESPN. In the column, he compared Fox’s coverage of UFC to the ESPN coverage of their own properties such as Little League Baseball. He said, rightfully so, that FS 1 devotes undue coverage to their own programming such as UFC and NASCAR on it’s highlights shows and sports magazine programming.
I don’t dispute any of this. What I do dispute is the general tone of the article which seemed to indicate that this relationship has been less than successful thus far.
ESPN has been a juggernaut in its field. For over 35 years, they’ve been at the top of cable sports world. They’ve got Monday Night Football, Sportscentre and many other staples of the American sporting public. To attempt to surpass them in 21 months would be impossible. FS 1 set out to compete, but not in their wildest dreams could they hope to surpass ESPN for #1, at least not this soon.
In August of 2013, UFC debuted on FS 1 after having been with FOX for about 20 months, airing shows on Fox, FX and Fuel TV. This was the debut of Fox’s all-sports channel and they needed a flagship show that would bring viewers to the network. This is where UFC came in. UFC had consistently averaged well over a million viewers for its Fight Night shows and PPV prelim shows on Spike TV. Those numbers dipped a bit with the move to FX but were still usually over a million viewers.
The programming kicked off with a bang with the FS1 debut bringing in 1.78 million viewers. That record would stand until early 2015 when a show headlined by Conor McGregor blew that number out of the water. Since its debut on FS 1, UFC has run a total of 76 shows, if you factor prelims and main cards as two separate shows. I’ve split those shows up into quarters to more easily look at the viewership trends since the FS 1 debut. The second and third quarters have 20 and 18 shows respectively so as to keep Fight Night 44 main card and prelims in the same quarter. As suspected, the numbers show an interesting trend.
Quarter 1 (19 shows from Aug 17, 2013 – Dec 28, 2013): 14,672,000 viewers | average 772,210.5
Quarter 2 (20 shows from Jan 15, 2014 – June 28, 2014): 14,093,000 viewers | average 704,650
Quarter 3 (18 shows from July 5, 2014 – Dec 6, 2014): 12,798,000 viewers | average 711,000
Quarter 4 (19 shows from Dec 12, 2014 – April 25, 2015): 17,744,000 viewers | average 933,894.7
They started high and took a dip before slowly rising and taking a dramatic jump in the last quarter. There’s a couple of explanations for that. At the beginning, UFC was putting very strong cards on FS 1. There’s a formula I use at MMADraws.com to measure the strength of cards and I looked at the average strength of card during these quarters.
Quarter 1: 835,210.5 average
Quarter 2: 549,450 average
Quarter 3: 610,777.8 average
Quarter 4: 576,000 average
The first quarter was dramatically higher than the other three. In fact, it stabilized to the point where the last three quarters have been within 12% of each other. But yet, the viewership has been on a steady increase since the second quarter. During this time, FS 1 also started airing Major League Baseball, including the playoffs which did record numbers for the station, as well as college football. These prestigious properties helped raise the profile of the station after UFC helped get it established. With the new viewers being brought to the station, the numbers for UFC have also risen. They’ve also seen a rise in PPV numbers in the last several months (last month’s UFC 186 notwithstanding). Here’s an illustration of the quarters with actual viewership numbers as compared to projections.
To me, this is a very clear indication that this relationship has been beneficial to both sides. FS 1 is continuing to grow. They may never get to ESPN levels, but they’re a lot further along than they were before. UFC is coming off perhaps the best quarter in company history in no small part due to the money from the FOX deal. And it may be pure speculation on my part, but I believe that the strength of FS 1 as destination sports station is also helping their PPV business.