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Ratings report: UFC Sunday night experiment looks promising

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Zuffa LLC, Getty Images

The experiment of airing UFC on a Sunday night got off to what should be viewed as a promising start from a ratings standpoint, as the main card for the Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua UFC Fight Night 38 was the third most-watched Fight Night since the launch of Fox Sports 1 in August.

The main card from Natal, Brazil, averaged 936,000 viewers from 7 to 10 p.m. Eastern time. The Henderson vs. Rua main event peaked at 1.25 million viewers.

The number compared favorably to Henderson's last main event, on Nov. 9, also a Brazilian show, on a Saturday night against Vitor Belfort, which did 722,000 viewers for the main card and aired on a traditional Saturday night. It's also a strong sign for both the day and the main event, since the show had nobody else with ratings drawing power on the main card.

Both shows went against significant sports competition, with college football in the fall, and five NCAA basketball tournament games this past Sunday, including a CBS game that did 11.62 million viewers, all going head-to-head.

With a comparison of two shows, both headlined by Henderson, and both having well known Brazilians as his opponent, the unfamiliar Sunday beating the traditional Saturday would have to be a strong positive and a real surprise. It's possible that Rua would have had a little more juice as Henderson's opponent, because the two had one of the greatest fights in UFC history in 2011. But Belfort and Henderson at the time was a more relevant fight since Belfort had far more momentum at the time than Rua, and had a title shot at stake.

Throwing in the competition, it would make one come to the conclusion Sunday may be a better night for UFC on FS 1. But the obvious negative is that Sunday has major problems, because in the fall, it would battle the monster that is Sunday Night NFL football, often the highest-rated show on television. But if nothing else, it shows that outside of football season, Sunday appears to be very viable.

While the number was down from the previous Fight Night on Feb. 15, which did 1.4 million viewers for Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi, that number was significantly propped up by a NASCAR race on FS 1 that led in directly to the main card and did 3.5 million viewers, the highest rated show in the history of the station. The other Fight Night to beat this total was the opening night of the network, which had tremendous publicity around it, and featured Rua vs. Chael Sonnen. That show did 1.78 million viewers.

The previous Fight Nights, a Wednesday night in January headlined by Luke Rockhold vs. Costas Philippou, did 629,000 viewers, and the Mark Hunt vs. Bigfoot Silva classic on Dec. 7, on a traditional Saturday night, did 755,000 viewers.

The prelims, doing 369,000 viewers, were also up from prelims before Fight Nights that did 220,000 before Rockhold vs. Philippou and 172,000 before Hunt vs. Silva.

On the flip side, Friday night's Bellator show, featuring the Attila Vegh vs. Emanuel Newton light heavyweight title unification match, did only 507,000 viewers, its lowest Friday night mark to date. That also went head-to-head with a plethora of NCAA tournament games.

Bellator thus far this season has done, as far as live and same night viewing, 880,000 viewers for its season opener that featured Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Christian M'Pumbu; 699,000 viewers for Daniel Straus vs. Pat Curran for the featherweight title; and 653,000 viewers for Eduardo Dantas vs. Anthony Leone for the bantamweight title.

The season opener, which was built around a light heavyweight tournament with Jackson and King Mo Lawal, was the most-watched Bellator show ever on a Friday night.

Bellator's Friday numbers in the fall season, when it came to live and same-night viewing, ranged from 520,000 to 793,000. In its first season on Spike in the spring of 2013, it aired on Thursday nights, which is an easier night to draw an audience, and also had a favorable lead-in with TNA pro wrestling.