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UFC’s PPV Deal Shows PPV Isn’t Dead Despite What WWE & Vince McMahon Thought

March 18, 2019 | Posted by Brian St. Denis
Vince McMahon WWE

In January of 2014, World Wrestling Entertainment announced that they were essentially leaving the pay-per-view business. McMahon led us to believe that this move was the future. Streaming. PPV was dead. The WWE Network would be emulated by everyone for years to come (hyperbole). I remember those days some five years ago. Some thought, the WWE would eventually just move all their traditional TV programming to the network (judging by $2 billion dollars, that answer is no, for now). Everyone would pay $9.99, right? In May of 2014, just three months after the initial launch, WWE said that “The company’s research indicates that based on overall take-rate of 3% to 5% of WWE homes in these markets (US & international), between 2.5 million and 3.8 million subscribers could subscribe to the WWE Network at a steady state.” WWE has never really gotten close to those numbers. As of December 2018, the paid subscriber number was 1.528 million, nowhere near 2.5 million and not even in the ballpark of 3.8 million. If you really want a complete breakdown, Brandon Thurston on Fightful broke it all down back in February.

Remember, on that Network announcement day, McMahon told us that PPV was dead. So looking at WWE’s PPV buyrate numbers for 2013 (the year before the Network launch) it is easy to see why McMahon was telling us PPV was dead. Because his PPV business was declining. I’m going to compare the 2013 WWE PPV business to that of the UFC, who was their main PPV competitor. The December 2013 PPV was TLC which did 181,000 buys globally. The UFC in the month of December 2013 sold 1.02 million. Survivor Series 2013 did a whole 177,000 buys globally (94,000 domestically). That same month, UFC, did 630,000 buys. October’s Hell in a Cell had 228,000 buys and UFC had 330,000. Overall, the year of 2013 for WWE was only slightly down from 2012. So, maybe McMahon saw the decline of his business coming? I couldn’t imagine the PPV numbers being very good if the company was still on traditional PPV. Just look at the December 2013 TLC, domestically the show did 140,000 buys. The average viewers for the go home edition of RAW (12/9/2013) was 4.15 million. That means that about 3.4% of the audience ordered TLC on PPV. Let’s keep it as fair as possible and look at December 2018. The 2018 PPV was also TLC and it was held on 12/16/2018, the go home edition of RAW was on 12/10/2018 and that show averaged 2.29 million. If the same number of 3.4% bought the TLC PPV six days later, the buys would equal 77,860. Although we don’t need to do hypothetical math to know that WWE’s Main Street appeal is in total decline. I say “Main Street” appeal because the WWE Twitter fan will point to the stock price being at an all-time high as if that is some measurement of PRODUCT POPULARITY (they also love to point to social media likes and YouTube views). The stock price is NOT an indicator of actual product popularity. You know what is? People who spend money on your product. As Brandon Thurston pointed out in February, the categories of money spent on WWE are either stagnant or in decline. The one aspect of WWE that doesn’t get talked about enough is the fact that once they no longer needed to convince people to buy the monthly PPV, the hunger for the best TV product died.

What has PPV done since McMahon told us it was dead? In 2015, two UFC PPVs did a combined number of 2,300,000. Also in 2015, boxing did 4,600,000 with one fight. 2016, UFC in four PPVs had buys equaling 5,317,000. One more for good measure, in 2018, UFC did 2,400,000 for one fight. So, when you have a product people want to pay for, people will pay for it.

Back to 2019, when on Monday afternoon, the UFC announced that ESPN+ would be the exclusive home for UFC pay-per-view events. Now, unlike WWE Network, this doesn’t mean that UFC will be practically giving away their monthly events. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. UFC fans now will sign up for ESPN+ and then be able to buy the PPV events. UFC will actually be getting a bigger cut of their monthly PPV revenues. Which in the long run, should be more beneficial than being on traditional PPV. However, the test for UFC & ESPN will be if they can force enough people to buy ESPN+ in order to buy the UFC PPVs. There are more people with traditional TV than not, so that will be a big test for UFC & ESPN to overcome. Will people who have traditional TV still go with ESPN+ in order to buy the UFC PPVs? The UFC & ESPN are banking on yes.

article topics :

Vince McMahon, Brian St. Denis