Being October, sports competition for MMA events is at peak levels, which greatly impacted both UFC and Bellator numbers this past week.
The prelims prior to UFC 243 did 559,000 viewers on ESPN 2. This was the lead-in for the pay-per-view show that UFC reported drawing its largest crowd in history, with 57,127 fans watching Israel Adesanya’s middleweight title win over Robert Whittaker at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.
The UFC show was the single most searched item on Google on Saturday with more than one million searches. So the lower television number wasn’t based on a lack of interest as much as an unfamiliar station and heavy sports competition.
The peak number was 693,000 for the Callan Potter vs. Maki Pitolo fight.
The main event of the prelims saw Australia’s Jake Matthews win a decision over Rostem Akham. Matthews and Megan Anderson, who opened with prelims with a first-round submission over Zarah Fairn, were the two biggest names on the television version of the show. The prelims also featured one of the better prelim fights of the year when Brad Riddell took a unanimous decision over Jamie Mullarkey.
The 559,000 number was the lowest primetime prelim number of the year, largely because it was moved from its usual home of ESPN, to ESPN 2. UFC 242, because of the early start time, did the lowest number of the year – 222,000 viewers – for an afternoon slot on FX, which is also an unfamiliar station.
It’s obvious why ESPN moved UFC off the main station. ESPN featured the Georgia vs. Tennessee football game and drew 3,901,000 viewers. Other sports competition went head-to-head with the UFC prelims, including Michigan State vs. Ohio State, which drew 6,677,000 viewers on ABC; Cal vs Oregon on FOX, which did 2,002,000 viewers; the Major League Baseball playoffs game between Tampa Bay and Houston on FS1, which drew 2,530,000 viewers; and a preseason NBA game with the Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers that did 1,171,000 viewers on TNT.
This was the first time a live UFC event aired in primetime on ESPN 2. From the station’s standpoint, the show was a success, finishing seventh in its time slot in the 18-49 demo. It w was the station’s highest rated show over the past two weeks in 18-49, 25-54, as well as with men 18-49 and 25-54.
On Friday night, Bellator drew 301,000 viewers for a show in Temecula Calif., that saw Lorenz Larkin win a decision over Andrey Koreshkov in the main event. The number was the seventh best out of the nine Bellator events this year on Paramount. It was not promoted as a major show, and probably had the toughest Friday night competition of the year from a sports standpoint.
The show went head-to-head with the WWE’s debut of “Smackdown” on FOX that did 3,888,000 viewers. The show had been heavily promoted by the network for months, and it was headlined by Brock Lesnar with advertised appearances from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Steve Austin (who ended up no-showing), Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and numerous other icons of the business. It also featured surprise appearances from Cain Velasquez and Tyson Fury, and it went against two baseball playoff games on TBS and the MLB Network in addition to college football on ESPN.