As MMA has grown in popularity, several problems have emerged to challenge the sport’s rise to national prominence. What follows is a multi-part look at several of the biggest issues in MMA today, and what we can to do fix them. First up… Pay-Per-View:
As a hardcore fan of the sport, I regularly shell out $55 to watch UFC events. I am willing to do this because my passion for MMA runs deep. I am the kind of guy who gets excited about relative unknowns with dangerous jiu-jitsu. I watch The Ultimate Fighter and keep track of the subplots it creates. I am often just as excited to watch the undercard fights as I am to watch the main event. I am also NOT the typical MMA consumer.
Take last night’s UFC 149 in Calgary, for example. Like many people, I thought: “Urijah Faber is fighting? Cool.” That alone might not have been enough to get me to fork over the dough, but I was also familiar with Renan Barao, Hector Lombard, Cheick Kongo, and many of the other fighters on the card. I wanted to see what would happen with all of them. For most people, paying that much money to watch one guy they’ve only heard of is ridiculous. I don’t blame them in the least.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that those aforementioned casual fans would not have even heard of Urijah Faber, much less considered spending $55 to watch him fight, if Urijah Faber had not come up in the WEC, a promotion which was nationally televised on cable for many years before being absorbed into the UFC. Similarly, names like Brian Stann, Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone, and Scott Jorgensen, are more likely to ring a bell than names like Cain Velasquez, Alan Belcher, Nate Diaz, or Shogun Rua. This is a testament to the power of accessibility, and the fact that someone who doesn’t know they're an MMA fan yet will never find out unless they can try watching the sport without the risk of wasting money.
Granted, Dana White has already tried branching out into cable telecasts, and the results have not been overwhelmingly encouraging. Like most things, however, the experiment just needs more time. So far, the fan who has only watched UFC on cable probably knows or is eager to watch few fighters beyond Junior Dos Santos. With every free event comes more drama, more subplots, more compelling reasons to watch the next event. Starting on the cable scene is almost like starting over completely, you need to build the sport up within a more casual fanbase, which so far has no reason to care… yet.
For the record, I am not advocating ditching PPVs completely. I still think they can be valuable moneymakers, but only for the biggest fights. Let me watch Anderson Silva’s rise to glory for free, then I’ll pay $55 to watch a title fight once I know who he is. Charging $55 for four random decisions, as was the case in last night’s event, is just not fair to the fans of the sport. By making lesser cards more accessible, the sport will not only flourish in popularity, but will also inevitably bring in larger draws when a card comes around that is worth paying for.
Can MMA survive without PPV? What do you think would help the sport grow?