The UFC 52 Numbers are in … Sort of

By Mike Sloan May 10, 2005
Looking back at last month's back-to-back Ultimate Fighting Championship weekends, it was premeditated that the crucial season finale to the wildly popular The Ultimate Fighter reality television series would be both critically and commercially impactful.

UFC president Dana White and his cohorts had been working feverishly for months on end to secure an essential TV deal and, as everybody knows, he was successful. Most agreed that the success of TUF would directly affect the immediate future of the UFC as a whole, but it wasn't known exactly how much of a positive or negative impact the Spike TV show had on North America's premiere mixed martial event.

Until now.

While precise numbers simply cannot be revealed and determined until roughly six or more months after a particular event occurs, preliminary ballpark figures indicate that the first season of TUF was a success on pay-per-view buys.

It appears that even though TUF wasn't aired on a high-profile time slot on Fox or NBC, the show did enough to garner interest in the sport with casual fight viewers. TUF was such a success that it is conceivable that it'll be only a few years before we see the UFC on as many networks as professional boxing.

Maybe even sooner.

I contacted Zuffa directly a few days ago in hopes that they'd reveal the pay-per-view numbers from UFC 52 — a litmus test as to how much, if any, TUF aided the organization. Naturally, White and his employees wouldn't elaborate on the subject as they simply refused to explain the amount of buys they received via PPV. (Actually, White himself was unable to be contacted.)

This is a tradition that stems back from Zuffa's first UFC events and for whatever reasons they have, they stick to their guns and keep their lips sealed.

I poked and prodded over the phone with a few key members within the Zuffa staff, but those whom I spoke with would not directly answer my questions. It appears as though White has hired or constructed a legion of robots that are programmed to ignore and dodge every question based around the PPV numbers.

That system was effective in the "early days" of Zuffa-era UFCs, seeing as though the PPV buy rates were appalling. Whether Zuffa was too embarrassed back then to reveal what the true buy rates were remains to be seen. But from what I heard from various reliable sources, there is noting to be ashamed of or embarrassed about in the aftermath of UFC 52.

Gathering a few snippets from these sources, and after hearing what was told to me, the results of the PPV buys for the event are more than promising.

When talking to Zuffa, the most of what I was told was, "I'm sorry, I can't reveal that information. We have a strict policy that we don't tell the public or the media about what our pay-per-views do."

As the king of trick questions, I tried virtually every trick in the book except for tickle-torture, but the Zuffa staff was too savvy and refused to budge. On that alone, I was impressed at their secret-keeping ability.

"What I can tell you is that we are very, very pleased about how well we did in terms of the pay-per-view buys," I was told.

All I could try to worm out of them was whether UFC 52 did more than 200,000 buys. And if it was the highest-bought UFC PPV in history.

"I'm sorry, I can't answer that question,” I heard. “We are not allowed to tell anybody those numbers. We keep that information private."

Frustrated, I finally demanded to know if UFC 52 was at least the highest-selling event in Zuffa’s history.

“I can’t give you specifics — but yes. I don’t even know if I can tell you that much, but the answer to that question would be ‘yes.’ That’s all I can say.”

With that said, it was difficult for me to run with a story if I could not receive a straight first-hand answer from anybody within Zuffa. If they weren't going to tell me, who in the world would?

Thankfully my full-time job requires delivering to, picking up from and mingling with many different people. And I am also fortunate enough that Cox Communications has a national deal with FedEx Ground and with that alone, I was able to snag a few bits of info from my anonymous source within Cox.

My source, who asked to not be revealed just in case he or she might be reprimanded, stated that while the exact numbers can't officially be tallied until several months from now, it appears as though UFC 52 did extremely well in terms of Cox PPV buys. It took a few days for my “customer” to dig up some info, but it came to me nonetheless.

The numbers in ballpark relevance?

My source said that UFC 52, which featured the thrilling battle between Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, sold to well over 200,000 customers. It was also estimated that UFC 52 produced more than twice as many buys as the previous high for Zuffa, which was roughly 150,000 buys.

You do the math. That could mean that UFC 52 was able to land over 300,000 PPV buys and if that's accurate, we can look at it in a few different ways. But first it must be said that these numbers are unofficial.

Exact numbers simply can’t be determined until a few months down the road. It also is uncertain that the Zuffa-era UFC’s previous all-time high for PPV was around 150,000. It could be less. It could be more. Moreover, my source at Cox wasn’t able to spend all of his or her time digging up the numbers, as that isn’t his or her regular duty. So even those numbers aren’t entirely accurate.

But “well over” 200,000 buys says enough, especially if Zuffa’s previous high was 150,000 or so. It also should be noted that my source explained to me that Cox’s PPV buy-rate system is a little peculiar in the sense that it doesn’t exactly read like a book. With that said, he was just guesstimating at the figures he or she pulled up, but promises that it was as accurate as he or she can get.

It's a no-brainer that the Spike TV reality show created such frenzy that possibly around 100,000 more people dug into their bank account to buy UFC 52. The MGM Grand Garden Arena was sold out in advance and according to the UFC and Brener Zwikel & Associates, the firm hired by Zuffa to handle media credentialing, at least 50 to 70 additional media requests had to be denied.

So with the dozens of additional media requests, the sold out arena and roughly 100,000 more PPV buys, it is more than safe to claim that TUF was a direct catalyst for the success of UFC 52.

This also is an indication that the UFC and MMA are gaining momentum in the mainstream. And as each event passes more and more fans are turned onto the sport. Since the conclusion of TUF's season's finale, I can't tell you how many emails I have received with the header "New UFC fan for life," or "TUF turned me onto the UFC."

While that alone is enough to pique my desire to write another piece on the event, it was when I heard from my source at Cox and how the few at Zuffa were joyfully dodging the questions that this very column was scribed. The popularity of our beloved sport continues to rise and it appears as though TUF was the flagship.

Zuffa, as everybody knows by now, has season two already lined up and will debut on Spike TV on August 22. Welterweights and heavyweights will be showcased this time around and as long as Zuffa and Spike TV don’t fudge up the brilliant formula, everything should fall into place.

Hopefully the second season can equal what Zuffa’s network TV maiden voyage did, and if that occurs look out. We may just see Matt Hughes on the cover of a Wheaties box, David Loiseau and his relatives selling Campbell’s Chunky Soup or Joe Riggs in Somalia, with tears in his eyes, begging you to adopt starving kids.
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