The question of how important promotion of UFC events on NFL games is for the FOX network shows was answered in the affirmative Saturday night. But it's not a huge difference and the Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez lightweight title fight showed a quality UFC event will do well outside the NFL season.
Based on the fast nationals, the seventh UFC on FOX event did 3.31 million viewers and a 1.5 rating in the 18-49 demo. That number isn't far off the fast national numbers of the two previous shows. The Jan. 26 show, headlined by Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson for the flyweight title, including top draw Quinton "Rampage" Jackson for support, did 3.77 million viewers on the fast nationals and a 1.8 in 18-49s. The Dec. 8 show headlined by Henderson vs. Nate Diaz for the lightweight title, featuring top draw B.J. Penn, did 3.41 million viewers and 1.6 in 18-49s.
Henderson vs. Melendez was the deeper show and had a stronger main event, although lacked someone with the proven national drawing power of a Jackson or a Penn. All things being equal, it should have beaten the previous two shows because Henderson should have come off the December win over Diaz as a bigger star.
It should be pointed out key points when it comes to the fast national ratings. The first is the fast nationals only rated the show from 8-10 p.m. in all time slots. That means that most of the main event, which in this case would almost surely be the most-watched segment of the show, is not figured into the average. So the final number should be up significantly, probably in the 4 million viewer range and a rating in the mid-2s.
The second is it rates the live airing in three of the four U.S. time zones, Eastern, Central and Mountain. On the West Coast, where UFC viewership is the strongest, it rates what airs on FOX affiliates from 8-10 p.m., and not the 5-7:40 p.m. live airing.
The show had consistent growth, with the Jordan Mein vs. Matt Brown fight doing 2.59 million viewers, the Josh Thomson vs. Nate Diaz fight doing 3.18 million and the Daniel Cormier vs. Frank Mir fight doing 3.73 million.
The show finished second overall among the networks, losing to CBS, which aired a first run airing of Vegas and a replay of The Mentalist in the time slot. But in the 18-49 target demo, over the first two hours, it more than doubled second place ABC (1.5 to 0.7).
The question when it came to ratings was how much the NFL mattered when it came to promoting UFC events. Prior to Saturday night's show, UFC had aired four FOX fights during football season, all topping 4.2 million viewers. The two prior shows that aired out of football season did only 2.4 million viewers. The first was a weak marquee card (headlined by Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller) and the second went head-to-head with the Summer Olympics. This was the first show where they had a strong lineup, featuring a title fight, out of football season.
For comparisons, the final Dec. 8 number was 4.39 million viewers for a similar length show where a five-round Henderson vs. Nate Diaz main event averaged 5.7 million. On Jan. 26, the show ended up doing 4.22 million viewers, with the Johnson vs. Dodson main event doing 5.2 million viewers.