UFC: How the lack of star power has impacted ratings

Without Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, UFC ratings have been floundering in 2017. What can WME-IMG do with television negotiations looming?

On July 9, 2016, it was officially announced that the UFC would be sold to WME–IMG (a talent agency representing actors, musicians, writers and the NFL and NHL) for $4.2 billion. Key factors to this sale were the high pay-per-view buy rates associated with the company’s top stars Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey (PPV’s featuring McGregor and Rousey comprise six of the top ten all-time buy rates as well as accounting for 61 percent of the UFC’s pay-per-view business in 2015).

Ratings Disaster this Summer

The lack of star power was evident in the disastrous underperformance in ratings this summer. UFC on FOX 25 drew the lowest overnight ratings in UFC on FOX history as well as third lowest overall rating. This was after UFC 213 became the lowest drawing pay per view they have ever hosted, (per a report from MMA Fighting’s Dave Meltzer numbers ranged from 125,000 to 150,000 buys, Tapology approximates 130,000) representing a potentially disastrous summer for the UFC. The declining ratings will need to improve if WME-IMG is hoping to negotiate a more profitable television deal at a time when ratings and buy rates are at their weakest.

The Jon Jones Conundrum

Who could save these flagging ratings and bolster the upcoming negotiations? With Rousey on indefinite hiatus and McGregor taking on Mayweather, the one big star left was the former light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones and his rematch with Daniel Cormier. Unfortunately, for the UFC hitching your wagon to the Jon Jones train has not guaranteed a smooth ride. While his return has been projected as doing approximately 860,000 buys on based on cable estimates, it came with the downside of Jones being Jones.

Jones is currently embroiled in yet another scandal after being flagged for a failed drug test, for the second time in the last two years. As much as things change, they stay the same. Having knocked out Cormier, regained his title and solidified himself as the second biggest draw in the UFC, the wheels came off again. There were even rumors of a bout with Brock Lesnar, which would undoubtedly be a huge draw for the UFC and provide a significant advantage in TV negotiations as well as a much needed financial boost.

The Future

No one knows the importance of stars and building celebrities more than WME-IMG. They realize the necessity to build new stars to boost staggering pay-per-view numbers. Relying on old names like the Bisping vs St-Pierre match up will bolster ratings in the short term, but they need to find and build upon a fighter who generates mainstream appeal. Instead of looking for another McGregor or Rousey they need to groom the stars they have. Rather than focusing on the “it” factor or fitting the mold, perhaps they should remember the best stars are just taking their own personality with the volume turned up to 11.