Ever since UFC moved to ESPN in January, its ratings have been constantly boosted by college basketball lead-ins.
On Saturday, the shoe was on the other foot.
The second UFC Fight Night main card on ESPN, headlined by Justin Gaethje’s first-round knockout win over Edson Barboza from the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia averaged 828,000 viewers for the main card. The main card aired earlier than usual for a UFC televised show, from 7-10 p.m. Eastern. That number compares unfavorably to the 1,463,000 viewers for the show headlined by Cain Velasquez vs. Francis Ngannou on Feb. 17.
More than anything, the culprit was the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament on TBS, which did 7,722,000 viewers for Texas Tech vs. Gonzaga, and then followed with 10,486,000 viewers for the 8:45 p.m. game with Purdue vs. Virginia.
The main event itself, did have significant interest, peaking at 1.4 million viewers, which shows the overall number would have likely been significantly higher had the fight gone longer than 2:30.
With the competition, the UFC drew an older audience and one where viewership concentrated on the main event rather than the complete show. The highest ratings were for viewers over the age of 50, which is rare for a UFC show.
The UFC only finished ninth in the 18-49 male demo for the day, because of all the basketball-related programming, a category that a UFC event would be expected most nights to battle for first place in.
Among the major markets, the UFC’s strongest marks were an 0.9 rating in Atlanta, 0.8 in Washington, D.C., and 0.6 in New York and San Francisco.
Top Rank boxing, from the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, headlined by Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs. Doudou Ngumbu, which followed UFC on ESPN, averaged 655,000 viewers.
Bellator on Friday night did 307,000 viewers on Paramount for a show headlined by a fight of the year candidate with Brandon Girtz winning a decision over Saad Awad. That figure was up from 255,000 the prior Friday for a show headlined by Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Georgi Karakhanyan. The Sanchez vs. Karakhanyan show drew the second-lowest average audience for a prime time Bellator event since its move to Spike TV, which is now Paramount.