Much of the talk heading into tonight's main event for UFC on Fox 1 is that UFC must surpass Kimbo Slice's MMA ratings record achieved in May of 2008. Namely, a peak of roughly 7.3 million viewers.
I've already weighed-in on the claim. My basic position is that UFC likely won't reach Slice's heights, but also don't need to. Slice had the benefit of a much longer event, a Gina Carano fight adding viewers prior to his bout and a serious curiosity factor among casuals to watch Slice compete. Neither Velasquez nor dos Santos have such advantages.
No one can argue ratings don't matter. They do, but this event is largely a trial run for the UFC-Fox partnership. It's not the final arbiter or determinant of success. In fact, I'd like to propose a new metric for the effectiveness of this partnership: pay-per-view buyrates for UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem.
Obviously part of the UFC on Fox objectives, on the UFC's side, is to increase pay-per-view buyrates. Use the Fox platform for exposure and then sell the public subsequent events. But UFC 141 is already expected to pull a significant buyrate, somewhere north of the neighborhood of 800,000 buys. That will make it difficult to parse out what effect, if any, tonight's promotion of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos will have on UFC 141 buyrates. Casual fans are already invested in Lesnar's fights and participation. How many of those watching tonight will be more inclined to purchase UFC 141 or even made more aware of it?
The absolute ceiling on buyrates for a Lesnar vs. Overeem fight would likely be between 900,000 to 1 million. If we accept that figure (one based on previous Lesnar buyrates plus the general health of the sport), then what would happen if Lesnar vs. Overeem drew 1.2 or 1.3 million pay-per-views? What could we attribute the bump in buys to?
Without qualitative data from pay-per-view buyers on what prompted their decision, any theory trying to account for a perceived increase in pay-per-view buyrates will be, at best, conjecture. And since the expected threshold for UFC 141's buyrates are already so high, measuring effect could prove difficult.
But it appears there is already more interest for Lesnar vs Overeem than there is for Velasquez vs. dos Santos. Lesnar is something like red meat for the very casual fan who only purchases the occasional UFC pay-per-view. Anecdotally, there appears to be a significant amount of discussion around UFC 141's main event. Web traffic for Lesnar vs. Overeem far surpasses that of Velasquez vs. dos Santos.
As we stated before, measuring the promotional effect of tonight's broadcast could be difficult. We'll see how strong the Fox and UFC promotional machines are, though, if UFC 141 does absolute gangbusters on pay-per-view.
So, if ratings tomorrow morning aren't up to the Slice level, don't panic. UFC fights ultimately do need to deliver ratings for Fox as the television giant has skin in the game. But the world won't end if UFC can't match the zenith of Slice's appeal. Instead, let's instead see if tonight's broadcast can take an already red hot fight and make it must-see viewing for fight and sports fans everywhere.
Just imagine: if Velasquez wins tonight and Lesnar beats Overeem, can you imagine how huge a Velasquez vs. Lesnar rematch could be? Do you want to bet that'd do either huge ratings on Fox or sensational numbers on pay-per-view? All of this is a reminder tonight's ratings are important, but they are not the only thing. There's many more events that can tell us if this partnership will ultimately work.