In part one of our interview with Yahoo! Sports' Dave Meltzer, the ratings and buyrate expert discussed some of the challenges the UFC has faced this year both in losing marquee fights and in erosion in the pay-per-view buying base. In part two, Meltzer and I look ahead to the end of the year and beyond.
In what should be a promising promotional rebound for the UFC, they close out 2011 with a heavyweight tilt between former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. Perhaps more importantly, their 2012 is packed with a record 34 shows which is expected to include a substantial overseas presence.
Meltzer helps explain the UFC expansion plans, how they intended to monetize their efforts, grow overseas markets and whether Lesnar can really rebound from two debilitating bouts with diverticulitis.
Luke Thomas: Dave, let's talk about 2012. Thirty-four shows. Now listen if Strikeforce goes away, they did 16 shows last year, eight being Challengers, eight being the bigger shows. You substitute the 27 shows they did this year, it's about the same number but something tells me, 34 shows for the UFC, maybe those extra shows are all international. Talk to me about, in your judgment, what do you think the UFC strategy is? Is it just international expansion? Do they believe more is better? Help me understand why they're upping shows and dropping pay-per-views?
Dave Meltzer: Well they're money and they have options for a lot of television. The thing is with TV, the TV on FX, that's a good venue. It's a pretty high-rated cable network, higher rated than Spike, higher prestige as well but Dana told me they were gonna run shows on Fuel and Fuel had better get in more places because to me, Fuel, so few people can get it that it's almost like you'll frustrate your fan base that wants to watch every show because what is it, 75-78 percent of the country doesn't get Fuel. Unless UFC being on Fuel will pressure more cable companies to carry Fuel and that's part of the strategy as well but I hate the idea of a live show for UFC that their audience cannot get on television in a reasonable way because then you frustrate your life audience that's used to seeing it. Yeah, sometimes you have to pay for it, sometimes you get it for free but the idea that there's UFC fights, maybe they're not the biggest fights, but they're still UFC fights and I can't watch them, UFC fans are not used to that. They're used to, if they want to, they can at least see every main event show that they want.
Luke Thomas: What about the overseas monetization, are they loss leaders? I don't know if they're going to, but they say Japan on February 26 at Saitama and everybody is like, "Okay, let's see what happens there," and that's the lead-in for another show. From a monetization standpoint, how do they make money in China, in India, let's say they go there? How do they recoup their expenses there. To me, it's not at all that clear how it's done.
Dave Meltzer: I think that obviously the original shows in England, they spent so much money getting the market ready that it took a long time to recoup it, but the shows have actually been very successful as far as selling tickets and everything like that. I think the idea is you build the market and you can make money on the live show and eventually you can build the brand strong enough to where you can do pay-per-view in the market and everything in the market that you can get pay-per-view in, in the long run is gonna be a benefit especially when you're talking about "in theory" a China and an India because they have those population bases but the flipside of that is, there's no such thing as pay-per-view in China that's been successful yet. It's not part of their culture and in India, I think it's gonna be a lot harder than China because of the economy there. Yeah, they may have a billion people in India and you look at, there's this many people in our age group and, in theory, UFC speaks a universal language of fighting and you can get people interested if you have the right television exposure and stuff in the country but the reality is, are you going to get those people who aren't used to pay-per-view to buy pay-per-views and that's very difficult.
The one thing that no one really thinks about in our culture which is different from North America to the rest of the world is, from my childhood which was a long, long time ago, when it came to the big boxing match or the big wrestling match, it was closed circuit television for boxing or it was the arena for wrestling. You didn't get it for free. You always paid for those things so then when they moved to pay-per-view, you had the audience that knew that to see the big fight, whether you were a wrestling fan or a boxing fan, you paid for it and those are the people that the UFC is rooted from, the boxing fans and the wrestling fans that were used to paying for the big fight. Now if you go to a place like Japan and I'm just throwing that out, they always got the Ali fights, that was on network TV, that wasn't on closed circuit. The big wrestling matches, they weren't on closed circuit, they were on free television so that's a culture that, the biggest fights you ever saw, Ali-Frasier, something like that, you didn't go to a theater and spend whatever money to see it. You sat at home and watched it on TV so you're used to not paying for this stuff so then asking people to pay, it's a lot more difficult and that's why pay-per-view in Japan never took off like it did in the United States and the reason why economically the US was able to surpass Japan because for years Japan was the bigger market for MMA was because of that thing that once pay-per-view got big in the US, Japan couldn't keep up with pay-per-view because those people were used to watching it on free television and network television isn't gonna pay you the money that pay-per-view will.
Luke Thomas: UFC 141: Overeem versus Lesnar, it should be, who knows, could be one of the biggest shows of the year if not the biggest. Firstly, who do you like to win and, more importantly, Lesnar, can the draw he once was? Is he still the draw? Talk to me about what kind of return the UFC can expect for that show.
Dave Meltzer: Well I think the whole thing with Lesnar right now is how hard he wants to promote it and how well they promote the show but ultimately, it's how he looks in that fight. If he looks great and wins that fight and then goes against Cain Velasquez, I think that'll be a big, big pay-per-view. If he loses and gets hammered in the first round, I think people will lose a lot of interest in him and I don't think he'll be a big pay-per-view draw, maybe he'll get one more fight out of him. I don't know. It could be the beginning of the end. As far as picking who's gonna win that fight, if I look at the prime Brock Lesnar and the prime Alistair Overeem, I find it an absolutely fascinating fight because it's gonna be, can he take him down and beat him up on the ground and cause Overeem's will to break which it has done before? Just because he's bigger doesn't mean his will won't break any easier.
Or, can he not take him down and I'll tell you what, from the day this fight was announced, I was very concerned from the Lesnar standpoint because it just seems like it's way too fast from that surgery. I had one of my best friends who had that exact same surgery and he's a sports guy. He's been in my ear from the day that fight was announced and he said, "No way. He may be superman and all that but no way is he gonna be 100 percent." and noted also that with that surgery, his core, his abdominal muscles are not gonna be at full strength and for Lesnar, Lesnar can only win in this sport when he is super strong because he doesn't have the skillset that these other guys have. If you do something to take that away, if Lesnar can't take Overeem down, he's a goner and he's a goner fast so I am concerned on that. I know that he's not a dumb guy and I know that if he didn't think he was gonna be ready he'd have told Dana, "Hey, give me another six weeks," but I'm still concerned. I'm wondering if we're gonna get the same Brock Lesnar because anything less, I'm not even sure that the prime Brock Lesnar wins this fight because Overeem's a dangerous fighter but I will say that a 70 percent Brock Lesnar has a very little chance in this fight. He better be 100 percent or he's gonna lose.
Luke Thomas: Last question before we let you go, Dave, what's it gonna take to get you on twitter? I know I can't be the first person who has said this to you. You're kind of quiet out there. The only way to get your content is to call you up or read your stuff online. What's it gonna take to get you in the social media?
Dave Meltzer: It's a timing thing. Seriously, I never sleep so I'm so adverse to adding a new project. That's really it. Of course I should be on twitter but god, what am I gonna cut out, you know what I mean? I guess it's an inevitability.
Luke Thomas: Well Dave, we appreciate your time today. It's always edifying to talk to you and continue to give us your insight and all your good numbers and everything else that you provide. We really appreciate it. You can get his stuff at Yahoo! Sports and of course the Wrestling Observer newsletter. Dave, if folks want to subscribe to that, how do they do that?
Dave Meltzer: Just go to www.WrestlingObserver.com and there's information to be a website subscriber you get 10 newsletters a month and some feedback issues from the 90s so you can see as the UFC was going on, how it kind of evolved because we're in '94 right now as far as we put up a new back issue every month and there's tons of stuff in MMA. If you're a pro wrestling fan, it's kind of like the gospel type of a thing. Anyways, so that's how you do it and Luke I want to thank you so much for having me on.
Luke Thomas: I'm not the biggest pro wrestling fan but I'm a huge Dave Meltzer fan, it's first rate work. Have a good day Dave and thank you so much.
Dave Meltzer: Okay, thank you!