Welcome to 2012. The majority of the UFC’s TV programming hours are now relegated to FUEL TV, which is located so far into TV Siberia that they have to cart away the UFC’s waste with an above-ground sewer. FUEL can be seen in only 36 million homes as opposed to Spike TV’s 100 million, so we had to expect some kind of drop in viewership after the switch. But not even the most cynical among us could have foreseen the audience going down quicker than a mob of Boston altar boys. When Fightlinker outdraws a UFC countdown special, it ain’t great, but at least that’s not an actual fight. When no one tunes in to watch live content for which the UFC and FOX are paying hard cash money, however, you know things are really bad.
UFC 142’s prelims on FX drew 880,000 viewers, which was lower than any live prelims that Spike TV showed, but not by a drastic amount. That could be chalked up to viewer confusion about the new network or fans going out and trying to get laid for once or some other such valid reason. But the two sets of FUEL prelims aired so far each drew fewer people than yesterday’s riveting episode of Cupcake Wars by a factor of 6. Only 144,000 people watched the UFC on FOX prelims on FUEL, and only 148,000 watched the FUEL prelims for UFC on FX earlier this month. This is a far steeper drop than could be explained by the network’s Matt Serra-like reach.
Even though the UFC hopes to make people switch providers just to receive its programming, this can only lead to new distribution deals for cable’s lowest-rated network so quickly. And even when new deals are inked for distribution of FUEL TV, it may only be available on some providers as part of some crappy sports tier that no one wants to pay for. In the meantime, random tuners-in will be less likely to see and stay with UFC programming, and therefore fewer new Affliction shirt-wearing, PPV-buying fans will be created. But don’t even THINK about streaming UFC on FUEL prelims – Dana White might send the FBI after you.