With more data in, including how every segment in the head-to-head period did, it is clear that the mixed martial arts audience may be larger than expected, but they are more loyal to specific brands or fighters, and not the sport itself.
With the UFC and Bellator going head-to-head on Friday night, the big question to be answered is what it would say about the UFC audience, the Bellator audience, and the total audience for mixed martial arts.
The answer has to surprise a lot of people. The audience, by and large, did not switch channels back-and-forth. The key moment of the night was when Bellator's featherweight championship fight was reaching its conclusion, with Pat Curran vs. Patricio "Pitbull" Freire going into its closing rounds, while UFC had a crowd-pleasing battle, its best fight of the night, with Joe Lauzon vs. Michael Chiesa.
UFC on FS 1 had the edge, with 898,000 viewers between 10:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., while Bellator wasn't too far behind with 820,000 viewers. To understand how ratings are calculated, even the quarter hours are actually an average of 15 different minutes. If someone watches seven-and-a-half minutes of UFC and seven-and-a-half minutes of Bellator, they don't count as two viewers and inflate the combined average. They count as 0.5 viewers for each show. Given that, there were 1,718,000 people watching MMA during those 15 minutes.
When Bellator's main event ended, and the UFC moved to a heavyweight fight with Matt Mitrione vs. Derrick Lewis, one would expect the UFC audience to inflate with the viewers who had just finished watching Bellator's title fight. But the opposite happened. The audience for Mitrione vs. Lewis fell to 759,000. It increased to 963,000 viewers for Alistair Overeem vs. Ben Rothwell, and the UFC audience peaked over 15 minutes at 1,068,000 viewers during the 12:30 a.m. to 12:45 a.m. portion of Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza vs. Gegard Mousasi. But that is a normal level increase for a main event. The extra viewers watching Bellator didn't switch to UFC, even for the main event. The conclusion is that for the most part, each show had a unique audience, with very little crossover. It also showed that the total MMA audience on a Friday night is larger than expected, but they are more fans of either brands, stations or certain fighters, and not people who will turn the channel to watch another MMA show.
Also notable is that Bellator's peak was not its championship fight, but earlier in the show, when TNA champion pro wrestler Bobby Lashley faced Josh Burns, with the match itself averaging 885,000 viewers. The highest actual peak was 979,000 viewers, at the start of the fight.
The UFC show peak minute, during the main event, was not available, but was likely in excess of 1.1 million viewers.
UFC, drawing 911,000 viewers on average for its main card, beat its Fight Night average by 12 percent, even going against competition and on an unfamiliar night. It was also up 17 percent, from a 504,000 average to 589,000, in the 18-49 demographic.
Bellator did almost exactly its Friday night average overall, with 667,000 viewers, but sources at Spike believe that even though ratings showed that people weren't moving from show-to-show, that its show will get a larger than usual boost when viewership via DVR figures are available later in the week.
The UFC prelims did almost exactly its average, with 485,000 viewers, just up from the Fight Night prelim average of 479,000, but it was up eight percent in the 18-49 demographic.
While UFC had the edge overall when its main card started, even going against Bellator's title fight, the Bellator main card before its title fight averaged 623,000 viewers over the two hours, while UFC prelims against Bellator, averaged 550,000 viewers. When you figure in that Bellator was available in eight million more homes, it's actually a slight edge when it comes to the percentage of viewers of the homes available even during that period for UFC. But the numbers are extremely close.
Another key point of the night would have been at 8 p.m., when Bellator started. The UFC was in the middle of a prelim fight between Chris Beal vs. Tateki Matsuda. Before Bellator started, the match had 438,000 viewers. When Bellator started, and Bellator immediately went into what was planned to be a heavyweight slugfest with Cheick Kongo vs. Lavar Johnson, the third round of Beal vs. Matsuda stayed virtually identical with 439,000 viewers.
But when Spike's rating shot up when Lashley's match began, adding a whopping 244,000 new viewers, they didn't come at the expense of UFC, which gained 16,000 viewers during the second and third rounds of the Rafael Natal vs. Chris Camozzi fight.
Another question is what was the audience response to the Stephan Bonnar/Tito Ortiz sideshow, with the pro wrestling style promo, the unmasking of Justin McCulley and the pull-apart brawl. The quarter hour, which also included the end of the King Mo Lawal vs. Dustin Jacoby fight, did 592,000 viewers. When it was over, Bellator had an increase to 668,000 viewers, even though there was no fighting between 9:45 p.m. and 10 p.m., with promo packages for the main event and ring introductions.
The general rule of thumb in an MMA broadcast is that the audience will increase as the show goes on, since the best fights come later, and that viewership is higher during fights, and declines during promotional packages, interviews, or anything between fights.
Overall segment audience numbers head-to-head
8 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. - UFC had 439,000 viewers for round three of Chris Beal vs. Tateki Matsuda; Bellator had 470,000 viewers for Cheick Kongo vs. Lavar Johnson
8:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m - UFC had 439,000 viewers for round one of Chris Camozzi vs. Rafael Natal; Bellator had 641,000 viewers for extensive commercials and building up future fights
8:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. - UFC had 455,000 viewers for rounds two and three of Chris Camozzi vs. Rafael Natal; Bellator had 885,000 viewers for Bobby Lashley vs. Josh Burns
8:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. - UFC had 518,000 viewers for promotion of later fights and round one of Al Iaquinta vs. Rodrigo Damm; Bellator had 630,000 viewers for promotion of later fights plus Tamdan McCrory vs. Brennan Ward
9 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. - UFC had 691,000 viewers for round two of Al Iaquinta vs. Rodrigo Damm; Bellator had 484,000 for promotion of later fights
9:15 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. - UFC had 636,000 viewers for promoting fights; Bellator had 610,000 viewers for round one of King Mo Lawal vs. Dustin Jacoby
9:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. - UFC had 654,000 viewers for John Moraga vs. Justin Scoggins; Bellator had 592,000 viewers for the end of King Mo Lawal vs. Dustin Jacoby and the Stephan Bonnar/Tito Ortiz altercation
9:45 p.m to 10 p.m. - UFC had 571,000 viewers for a wrap-up and promoting the main card; Bellator had 668,000 viewers for promoting the main event
10 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. - UFC had 844,000 viewers for the intro and beginning of Michael Chiesa vs. Joe Lauzon; Bellator had 811,000 viewers for the first two-and-a-half rounds of Pat Curran vs. Patricio "Pitbull" Freire
10:15 to 10:30 p.m. - UFC had 898,000 viewers for the conclusion of Michael Chiesa vs. Joe Lauzon; Bellator had 820,000 viewers for the conclusion of Pat Curran vs. Patricio "Pitbull" Freire