Prior to Saturday’s interim title fight and right on the heels of the announcement of the flyweight title fight on the TUF 17 finale, it makes sense to discuss the UFC’s newest strategy, putting title fights on free TV. There was a time when the world’s largest fight promotion would have never entertained the idea of putting title fights on free TV, or at least not Spike TV. Whether it was from a little coaxing by Fox executives or just admitting that a few of their champions may not be very good PPV draws, the UFC seems committed to the bold strategy of offering title fights, to a much larger audience, for free.
What led them to this strategy is most likely a combination of factors. Prior to UFC on Fox 5, the viewership numbers the UFC pulled in on Fox were trending downwards. One reason for this trend is that “No. 1 Contender” or “Title Eliminator” does not market as well to the casual fan as “World Championship.” People understand world championships fights.
Another factor the UFC has acknowledged with this strategy is that a few of its champions are nowhere near proven PPV draws as the rest of the company's titleholders. Anderson Silva and GSP are the company’s top draws and the heavyweight title seems to always draw well. Jon Jones is on his way to becoming a superstar if he is not already. Jose Aldo seems to be an emerging star and we will find out what type of draw Ronda Rousey is in just a few weeks. That leaves the three of the lighter weight classes where, aside from BJ Penn and Urijah Faber, the champions have always had a hard time drawing large PPV numbers.
Rather than bury the fights of these champions as co-headliners on a PPV where the headliner would draw most of the attention, putting these title fights as headliners on free TV helps to serve two purposes. First, the title fight will draw bigger numbers than most other headliners. The second purpose is that, hopefully, fighters such as Ben Henderson and Demetrius Johnson eventually become better PPV draws as a result of the fan base they have built from larger audiences watching them on Fox, FX and Fuel. The bigger the draw, the more value the fighter is to the UFC.
If the UFC continues with its strategy, it will leverage the Fox platform to build the UFC brand and help turn fighters into bigger stars. Bigger stars have much greater value, especially when they are your champions.