UFC on FOX 7 TV ratings show value of NFL promotion

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The final ratings for Saturday's UFC on FOX show, headlined by Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez for the lightweight title, ended up slightly below that of Henderson's first title defense on FOX, against Nate Diaz on Dec. 8.

The show delivered a 2.2 rating and 3.7 million viewers, putting it in fifth place of the seven specials, but blowing away both previous shows that took place out of football season.

The Dec. 8 Henderson vs. Diaz headlined FOX special did a 2.5 rating and 4.39 million viewers.

Last year's spring special, headlined by Diaz vs. Jim Miller, which did a 1.5 rating and 2.42 million viewers. The summer numbers, for a show headlined by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson, did similar numbers, although it was hurt badly by going head-to-head against the Olympics.

This seemed to, more than anything, show that having the UFC promoted during NFL broadcasts makes a significant difference when it comes to FOX network ratings. By all rights, Henderson should have come out of the Diaz fight as a bigger star, given his impressive victory. Melendez hadn't had the level of UFC exposure as Diaz, given it was his debut with the organization. But he was the Strikeforce champion for most of the past seven years.

The promotion decided against heavily promoting it as a champion vs. champion battle, a strategy done only once by the UFC in the past for a very successful Sept. 8, 2007, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (UFC light heavyweight champion) vs. Dan Henderson (Pride champion in the same weight class) fight. That is still the third most-watched MMA fight ever on cable television.

In addition, unlike the one-sided win by Henderson against Diaz, the Melendez fight was a split decision where the outcome was in doubt until the cards were read.

The positives were in the demographics, as in the Male 18-34 age group, the 2.2 rating was more than double the combined average of ABC, CBS and NBC programming in competition (1.0). FOX also outrated the other three major networks combined in Males 18-49 (2.7 to 1.6) and Males 25-54 (2.8 to 2.2). One thing notable from these numbers is that the show did far stronger numbers with males 35-49 than those who were 18-34, the latter of which is UFC's usual prime demographic.

The Henderson vs. Melendez match itself did a 2.7 rating and 4.96 million viewers. As a comparison, Henderson vs. Diaz did a 3.3 rating and 5.7 million viewers. Just based on FOX numbers, Henderson vs. Diaz would have been the ninth most watched MMA fight in U.S. television history, but if you included numbers watching in Spanish on Fox Deportes, it would have risen to No. 7. Henderson vs. Melendez failed to crack the top 15.

The title bout itself, taken as a separate show, outrated all but one show on broadcast television last week in Males 18-34 and Males 18-49.

The surprise was in local market ratings. With the heavy emphasis on San Francisco Bay Area fighter, Melendez, Daniel Cormier and Josh Thomson, the San Francisco market was not one of the highest rated nationally, nor were usual strong markets when it comes to UFC ratings like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Seattle.

The top five markets were Kansas City (4.6), Portland, Ore. (3.8), Minneapolis (3.6), Fort Myers, Fla. (3.4) and Indianapolis (3.3).

The three-hours of prelims on FX, which included top ranked fighters Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez, averaged 1.06 million viewers. The two hours of previous FX prelims, on March 16 before the Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz UFC 158 show, averaged 1.58 million viewers.

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