UFC does lowest pay-per-view prelim numbers of ESPN era

Even with popular names like B.J. Penn, Clay Guida and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira fighting, the prelims before UFC 237 fell to 813,000 viewers, the lowest of the four pay-per-view prelims in the ESPN era.

It was down from the 893,000 viewers last month with lesser names on the prelims, but a better marquee pay-per-view card with Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya for the interim welterweight title and Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway for the interim lightweight title.

It was disappointing because of the bigger names, but it was on a night with a pay-per-view main event of Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade for the women’s strawweight title. That figured, on paper, to be the weakest marquee main event for a pay-per-view show this year, even though Anderson Silva was in the No. 2 bout, losing to Jared Cannonier.

Google searches for the night were just over 500,000, well below the other pay-per-views of the year.

The show finished fourth in its time slot on cable in the 18-49 demo and third in the 18-49 male demo.

It was fourth overall in the sports category in the time slot, trailing NASCAR on FS 1 doing 2,177,000 viewers; a San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup playoff game on NBC doing 2,091,000 viewers; and FOX boxing where Julian Williams won the undisputed junior middleweight title from Jarrett Hurd, which did 1,385,000 viewers. The UFC did beat college softball on ESPN2 (549,000 viewers) and Major League Baseball on the MLB Network (315,000 viewers).

The UFC’s audience was heavily concentrated in the 35-49 age group. It also had a 74.2 percent male skew in the 18-49 demo, which is higher than usual. In comparisons with the NASCAR race head-to-head, the numbers were relatively close in most demos, with UFC having a very slight edge in Males 18-49 but NASCAR winning in every other demo. But in the 50+ demo, the NASCAR race did nearly five times the viewership of the UFC fights, which is why the total viewer numbers were so different.

Of the top 10 markets, the UFC did the strongest in Washington, DC, with an 0.7 rating. It also did 0.5 ratings in Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and San Francisco. Its weakest numbers were in New York and Chicago with 0.3 ratings. Stronger numbers in Los Angeles and San Francisco are notable because the show aired well out of prime time, from 5-7 p.m. on a Saturday, as compared to 8-10 p.m. on the East Coast.

In other MMA events over the weekend, the Friday night Combate Americas show from Stockton, Calif., headlined by Erick Sanchez vs. Alex Velasco, did 382,000 viewers on Univision at midnight. That’s better than Bellator has been pulling in prime time on Fridays. Univision is also a far stronger station than Paramount.

The debut of the PFL on ESPN 2 on Thursday night in prime time starting at 9 p.m., did 137,000 viewers. Two-time Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison headlined the show winning a decision over Larissa Pachecho as part of a women’s lightweight tournament with $1 million going to the eventual winner.

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