The numbers are in, and they aren’t pretty. According to a report from Lance Pugmire of the LA Times, UFC 225 — which took place last Saturday night at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, and which featured a brilliant main event between middleweight studs Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero — did less than 150,000 pay-per-view buys. The UFC has already gone into damage control mode, saying that reported number was low, but even if the number is on the low side, it’s a bad sign for the UFC that such a stacked card did such a low amount of buys considering the two title fights, big names, and inclusion of former WWE superstar CM Punk on the card.
But it’s hardly surprising, and UFC 225’s low buyrate just continues the trend of low buys for UFC pay-per-view cards. The last UFC PPV, May’s UFC 224 card which took place in Brazil and which featured a main event between Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington, reportedly did less than 100,000 buys (closer to 85,000), which was one of the UFC’s worst PPV showings in years. UFC 223 featuring Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Al Iaquinta did a bit better, scoring between 210,000 to 360,000 buys according to Dave Meltzer, but UFC 222 featuring Cris Cyborg vs. opponent before that did just 260,000 buys and UFC 221 featuring Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero only did 130,000 buys. UFC 220, which featured Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou, did a bit better with 380,000 buys. This was the same as UFC 219 featuring Cyborg vs. Holly Holm, but before that UFC 218 which featured Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo 2 did just 230,000 buys. UFC 215 and UFC 216 did just over 100,000 buys a piece. The only true mega card for the UFC since last summer was UFC 217, featuring Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre, which did nearly 900,000 buys. But other than that card, most buyrates have been a disappointment for the UFC.
I think the low buyrates for most recent cards, but especially for UFC 225, just show that MMA fans have different viewing habits than they used to. Back in the day, it was “cool” to watch fights on pay-per-view. You’d order the show, have a few buddies over and have a party, and watch the fights. But in this day and age, let’s be honest, a lot of people find ways on the internet to watch fights. The internet has helped grow the sport, but it has really hurt the buyrates for UFC PPVs because it’s just so easy to find what you want to watch on the internet now. Fans just don’t look at most of these cards and feel like they are worth shelling out their hard-earned money for, unless in rare instances like UFC 217 which feature a superstar like GSP in the main event. Unless it’s GSP, Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor fighting, odds are the PPV is going to bomb, and at this point no one should be surprised when the reported buyrate comes out low.
When it comes to UFC 225 in particular, the low buyrate shows a few things. First, it shows that Whittaker and Romero are not draws just yet, though after that amazing fight maybe their next fights will do better numbers. It also shows that maybe Colby Covington’s star power is being overstated right now, as his fight with Rafael dos Anjos was the fight being talked about the most on the card, but clearly it didn’t add a significant number of buys. The inclusion of Holm on the card didn’t help as much as it should have, and neither did the return of Punk, who is probably one of the most overrated “draws” in MMA history. Putting a proven PPV draw like Alistair Overeem on the prelims also didn’t help. So overall, even though on paper this was a stacked card, one can see why the PPV number was ultimately a disappointment for the UFC.
Ultimately, the UFC needs to reconsider the PPV model because clearly it isn’t working like it used to. While a low buyrate used to be a unicorn for the UFC, nowadays almost every card is doing below-average PPV numbers, and only the true superstars are drawing big numbers on PPV. With the move to ESPN next year, the UFC has said it plans to continue holding 12 PPV cards a year, but they should probably cut that down to six, reserving them for the true superfights, and putting the rest of the fights on ESPN. The UFC seems to be stuck in the past thinking that fans are okay with shelling out big money for PPV cards, but clearly things have changed, and fans don’t want to spend that much on PPVs anymore, choosing to be selective instead. Maybe things will change in the future, but right now, the UFC is being stubborn and stuck on the status quo, but maybe not for much longer.
Do you think the UFC should reduce the number of PPV events per year?