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By: Frank Hyden, MMATorch contributor
The latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter drew 929,000 viewers last Friday, the lowest audience in the history of the show. A new night and a new network haven't been kind to the show. Being on Friday night hurts the ratings, as does being on a different channel, as you always lose a percentage of your audience when you change networks. You also lose a percentage of your audience when you change nights, especially when you move to the weekend.
Another problem is that no one knows who the fighters are. That's the point of the show, but it certainly doesn't help things. MMA is a star-driven sport, and it's also an individual sport. There's no team to root for, so if one of your favorites isn't fighting, your interest level isn't going to be as high. The coaches on TUF have little impact on the ratings because they're not fighting. You could have Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson coaching a bunch of unknown basketball players and you're not going to draw good ratings because people want to see those guys play basketball, not coach (though Bird was actually a pretty good coach for a short period, but in Jordan's case you damn sure don't want him making personnel decisions for your team). The TUF coaches can only add so much.
The most popular season of TUF in the ratings was Season 10, the one with Kimbo Slice. That's no coincidence. Not even the season with Brock Lesnar as one of the coaches (Junior dos Santos being the other coach) could pull away from the pack in terms of ratings. That's meaningful because Brock is the biggest draw in UFC history.
The changing landscape of MMA is another reason. You can find UFC programming, as well as Bellator and other promotions, in a lot more areas than you could when The Ultimate Fighter debuted. In the first handful of seasons MMA was fresh and new, now it's relatively commonplace.
You also have to contend with the poor quality of some of the earlier seasons. Sequels will generally draw better than what came before it until you reach the point of crap saturation. That's why the horrible Brett Ratner-directed X-Men 3 made more money than X-Men 2 and X-Men even though it was a steaming pile, as it cashed in on the goodwill that the previous two movies bought. If they had made an X-Men 4 it would have bombed because of the garbage that was the third movie. This is what has happened with TUF. Season 14, the one with Michael Bisping coaching against Jason Miller, was actually one of the better seasons, but it had to contend with all the negativity surrounding the show because of seasons that weren't as good quality-wise.
The early seasons of TUF were good because they were different. Since then the quality has gone down. A large part of it was that they were scraping the bottom of the barrel in many of these seasons, especially when they had 16 fighters in the same weight class. The seasons also largely followed the same gameplan; a couple of the fighters are going to engage in pranks, there's going to be a lot of fake tough-guy posturing, followed by the episode where the fighters wreck the house. Wash, rinse, repeat until everybody gets sick of it. What was different has become as rote as "A Very Special Episode" of an 80's sitcom.
Having the seasons take place so close together is another problem. There have been two seasons every year since 2005. That's an overload, especially when you factor in how similar the seasons are.
The fact that most of the fighters who compete on the show end up in the UFC regardless of whether they win or lose doesn't help matters. It's understandable if a talented guy who lost by controversial decision is allowed a chance to earn a spot in the UFC, but when guys who got beaten soundly are showing up on the Finale, that diminishes the point of the show.
Going live with TUF has little to no bearing on the ratings. If they want to camouflage how long a fights lasts, have all fights start at the bottom of the hour. I've heard some people complain that they could tell how long a fight lasted because of when it started. Starting all the fights at the bottom of the hour eliminates that.
I'm in favor of keeping The Ultimate Fighter on the air, even with its declining ratings. It serves a purpose and it helps the UFC raise its brand awareness. They should continue to tinker with it, though. There's still some tread left on these tires.
Anheuser-Busch is a prized sponsor for the UFC. Recently they warned the UFC about fighters and other personalities making sexist and homophobic remarks, after receiving complaints from advocacy groups. The UFC needs to rein this junk in. This kind of behavior can't be tolerated, and it all starts at the top, with Dana White. I've written repeatedly that Dana needs to conduct himself in a more professional manner, one that's suited to a man in his position. I'm not saying Dana is a bad guy, he just occasionally makes bad decisions when it comes to what he says in public. If the UFC wants to be in the big leagues, they have to act big league. If someone in the company doesn't act appropriately, the UFC needs to dole out big league punishments.
Everyone in the company needs to be held to a higher standard. The UFC also needs to eliminate blatant favoritism and hypocrisy, the type we saw when Miguel Torres got fired for making a stupid rape joke on Twitter while Rashad Evans made inappropriate comments about the Penn State scandal and got off with a relative handslap. The situation was then compounded when Dana White himself made a rape joke on Twitter. At least the UFC corrected the situation and rehired Torres, that's a step in the right direction.
If the UFC wants to continue becoming more mainstream they need to cut this stuff out. They've made a lot of great strides in recent times, but they can't allow something as easily correctable as this to derail that momentum. The UFC needs to send out an official memo outlining what cannot be said by anyone in the company. They also need to outline the punishments if offenses do occur. The punishments need to be severe because the risks are so high. Everyone in the company is a grown adult, they need to act accordingly. The UFC needs to tell them to either get with the program or get out.
Comments and suggestions can be e-mailed to me at email@example.com
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