If the trend is your friend, as it is often is in markets and television ratings, ratings for this season’s Co-Ed Ultimate Fighter are indicative of two trends.
Trend one is that the show continues to see declining ratings for what was once UFC’s top star-making television vehicle. When UFC drew 1.8 million viewers for the Chael Sonnen/Mauricio Shogun fight from Boston on Fox Sports 1, it proved that UFC could bring their hardcore fans to the table no matter what channel. Despite this impressive ability to attract instant ratings on cable television networks, UFC has seen a precipitous ratings decline for Ultimate Fighter. The show format is long-played out. It’s stale. The top prospects aren’t appearing on the show since UFC is swallowing them up with contract offerings in order to keep feeding the beast that is the promotion’s non-stop worldwide event schedule.
For this season’s Ultimate Fighter, the first defense when pressed about declining show ratings is to point out that Ultimate Fighter episodes air multiple times weekly on FS1 and that the combined viewership is in the 1.5M range. Perhaps some people who normally aren’t watching Sunday Night Football on NBC are flipping over to FS1 instead to watch. However, I find it quite a stretch to believe that all 1.5M viewers are single-time weekly viewers who watch the show once. I’m sure there are some repeat viewings for fans who are bored with what else is on television.
Now, for the second and far more interesting trend on this Co-Ed season of Ultimate Fighter — the female fights are drawing higher ratings than the male fights.
In one sense, no surprise. The ladies are the stars on this show. The coaches are female. The more dynamic personalities and back stories involve the female fighters. The male fighters on the show, for the most part, come across as standard vanilla UFC entry-level personalities who don’t make many waves and just want to fight. The stories of fighters like Shayna Baszler, Roxy Modafferi, and Jessamyn Duke are far more interesting and compelling. Well, compelling on a sliding scale. The ratings for the show are nothing to write home about but those who are watching care about the women more than the men on the show.
The bigger question coming out of this show is what the image of Ronda Rousey will be amongst the fans. Will enough people have watched to form a polarized (super positive or negative) opinion of her? So far, it seems that Miesha Tate has come across very well on camera and has an eye of how the reality television concept works. Ronda, on the other hand, has let all the emotions flow — for better and for worse. Despite the fact that the two coaches are far more interesting personalities on the show than previous coaches on Ultimate Fighter, the ratings will be chalked up as the lowest that Ultimate Fighter has ever attracted on cable television. To soften that blow, defenders will point out that nothing else comes close to drawing the ratings that UFC programming does on FS1 and they would be 100% correct. In the watered-down world of a billion cable channels at your disposal with the war over carriage fees rather than purely ratings, UFC is on safe ground with Fox Sports. However, even that safe(r) ground does not address the larger trend that Ultimate Fighter as a programming vehicle has ran its course. Despite BJ Penn being a coach on next season’s Ultimate Fighter, I do not expect many ratings fireworks with Frankie Edgar as the opposite coach. It will be telling, however, if the ratings do bump up and draw more than the women. If so, then UFC will have some cause for concern as to what the (artificial) ceiling is for Ronda Rousey’s current ability to draw eyeballs from UFC fans.