The prelims for UFC 214 on Saturday night averaged 886,000 viewers, which would only be the third-best of the seven pay-per-view shows so far this year.
It sounds bad, because UFC 214 was expected to be by a wide margin, the biggest show so far this year. And the show looks to have been - easily - from virtually every other measurable standpoint. The reason the show likely fell below the 1 million mark is because it aired on FXX, an unfamiliar station to the UFC audience. Previously, UFC pay-per-view prelims were almost always on FS 1, and when not, would be on FX, which is a higher rated station.
The UFC show was moved from its usual home due to a major league baseball game with the Miami Marlins vs. Cincinnati Reds, which only did 276,000 viewers.
The 886,000 viewers was up 67 percent from what FXX averaged last July in the same time slot. It was also the most-watched sports program on television during the 8-10 p.m. time slot. The actual Adrien Broner vs. Mickey Garcia boxing match on Showtime did 881,000 viewers for the fight itself, but the fight started after the UFC prelims had ended.
The UFC ratings peak was 1,072,000 viewers for the Aljamain Sterling decision win over former bantamweight champion Renan Barao. The TV main event where Ricardo Lamas beat Jason Knight only went one round, giving it less time to build an audience.
As compared to usual UFC television programming, the 18-49 male audience was 77 percent, well above the usual male skew. The audience was younger skewing than usual. For a comparison, the replay of the Bellator pay-per-view from June 24 in Madison Square Garden the prior night on Spike did virtually identical numbers as the UFC prelims when it came to viewers over the age of 50, but the UFC show did almost double the Bellator show in 35-49 and nearly four times the number in 18-34.
But while those type of prelim numbers would not correlate to big pay-per-view numbers for UFC's best show from a marquee value, early indications are good.
Dana White after the show said it was tracking at about one million buys, far ahead of most predictions of 500,000 to 700,000. While no solid numbers are available this early in the week, those with access to the Internet sales of the show indicated the show pulling much stronger numbers than even the most optimistic predictions. Internet pay-per-view orders are often the best predictor, although the 1 million mark still sounds high. Jones himself was clearly stunned, in a positive way, when the 1 million number was thrown out to him after the show.
The high-end number, if that holds up, would tell an important story. UFC 213, headlined by Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight title, after the Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko fight fell through, did an estimated 130,000 to 135,000 buys. UFC shows all year have been down, but there also hadn't been a fight that would have been expected to do more than 300,000 buys all year. A big number here indicates that it isn't that UFC itself is cooling off, and that numbers will come up to expected levels when the big fights transpire. It's also a good indication that Jones has the potential to be a bigger draw going forward than he had been historically.
The first Jones-Cormier fight did more than 800,000 buys, but it felt at the time like that was a much bigger fight than the second one because of the stronger grudge match aspect, and also because Jones solidly won the first fight.
UFC 214 was the No. 1 weekend search on Google with more than 2.8 million total, far beyond the usual 500,000 range that most UFC pay-per-view shows have done this year. Historically, Google searches are a better predictor of pay-per-view than prelim television ratings.
The pre-fight show on FXX did 307,000 viewers. The post-fight show on FS 1 at 1 a.m. did 267,000 viewers.
The weigh-ins live on FS 1 did 245,000 viewers, the fifth-most watched weigh-in the station's history. A 10 p.m. replay of the weigh-ins did 142,000 viewers.
Bellator did 539,000 viewers for a tape of its show from five weeks earlier, featuring Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva and Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione. That number was about what most Bellator non-major shows airing live are doing these days. The show peaked at 735,000 viewers. It's also possible, since it wasn't a live show, that DVR numbers on a percentage basis will be higher than usual.