MMA Business: New Scheduling Challenges Facing The UFC With the Merger
What Challenges Are Ahead For UFC & WEC Merger?
As the WEC merged with the UFC, an explosion of emotion erupted across the internet as news of possibly the biggest MMA announcement of the year spread rapidly.
Most of the news was met with excitement as dream matches were laid out, speculation about weight classes, events and different scenarios were tossed around with wild exuberance as fans raved about the significance of the merger. That was the week following October 28 when Dana White first broke the news. Since then, the fans have been since flamed and people have started seeing through the pros and are now worrying about the cons of the merger.
One of the biggest worries for MMA fans and perhaps UFC officials is now scheduling.
Including the two shows coming up – WEC 52 and 53 – the little brother of the UFC will have staged eight shows before the year's end. UFC on the other hand is an event juggernaut. By the time January 1 comes around, the organization will have promoted 23 shows in 2010. Their first next year starts on New Year's Day with UFC 125: Resolution, a day when the UFC really treads new water as it starts the year with two new weight classes, featherweight (145 pounds) and bantamweight (135 pounds).
We have heard UFC President Dana White in the past talk about the addition of more cards as people cannot get enough of the 'viral' that is UFC. White openly welcomes the influx of more cards, seeing as though he has a packed rooster, filled with potentially awesome fights. White knows that if his crew can do it, then there's nothing stopping them from getting it done. However on the way, there will be scheduling conflicts on this new path. It's one in which the company has not walked down before. They will reach the end of the path, maybe not this year, but if anything, the UFC has shown us in the past that once they set their mind to something, they will achieve it. But before that, they have some teething problems or challenges to overcome.
1: Events – Can the UFC manage to stage 32 events a year? In 2010, as aforementioned, Zuffa will have planned and ran 24 UFC live events, along with eight WEC events. Can they achieve the same number next year under the one umbrella?
All signs point to yes, when you consider that in 2009, the company promoted less shows with both organizations, 20 UFC shows and eight again from WEC. Each year, the company sets new targets and manages to set the bar higher. Last year, it was 32 events as a whole. Next year, I would not be surprised to see that stretched to 35, as the company tests the water. If the feedback from fans is favorable, then this of course will be increased close to the 40 range.
However, there is a drawback to all this and that is, how many fights can fans seriously tolerate? At some point, the market is surely going to saturate or will Dana White and the UFC buck the trend and see the company grow at the rate they expect it to?
Zuffa would not have undertaken this huge decision if it thought it was detrimental to their long term future.
But this year along, fans have often criticized cards which they did not deem worthy of either their time or money and in some cases, both.
Live crowds still flocked to the events, but some of them were a major miss with viewers. UFC 120 drew one of the UFC's largest crowds of the year inside the arena, with 17,133 packing the 02 Arena in London, England. Outside of the 02, the card was met with derision as many switched away from Spike, deemed the fights 'worthless' and 'boring' before the card took place. The same can be said of the upcoming card in Oberhausen, Germany. With several European fighters on the card and a relatively poor headline bout, the event in theory is not one of the must see cards of the year. As the UFC looks to grow its produce, the number of events will come thick and fast. But sometimes, quantity does not deliver quality.
For instance, UFC UK President Marshall Zelaznik talked about the possibility of four fight night cards coming to the UK next year. Something tells me fans would rather see one terrific card packed with great fights rather than four average cards, stuffed with mediocre fighters. Maintaining the UFC and now the WEC's quality stamp of approval will be even harder in 2011.
2: Weight Classes and Champions: As we reach the dawn of a new era, UFC will welcome two new weight classes into their ranks, the featherweight division (145 pounds) and bantamweight division (135 pounds).
Two more champions have been added to the roster, UFC Featherweight Champion, Jose Aldo current WEC title-holder Dominick Cruz and challenger Scott Jorgensen do battle.
At the start of 2010, UFC fans had to wait three months before they saw a title fight, as George St Pierre clashed with Dan Hardy on March 27. It was a long three months, but technically with two more champions on their roster, the UFC will be able to promote some more title fights and in quick succession. They did in mid-year present a series of title fights on cards, sometimes one after the other and even two title fights took place on the now ill-fated Abu Dhabai card.
That is one thing that fans should be able to look forward to, more title fights, a major plus. But of course, there's a flip side as the allocation of two more weight classes means that we will see less of some divisions.
For instance, the WEC's Lightweight fighters have now been amalgamated into the UFC's Lightweight category. This means, that unless the UFC stacks the networks with more shows, we might not see some of our favorite lightweights in 2010. Will some fighters be cut to make way for the influx of these new WEC guys?
Along with this, other weight classes will have to accommodate and make way for the Featherweight and Bantamweight divisions on cards, which are already full to the hilt with talent. Instead of seeing a fighter on three to four occasions times a year, we might be limited to just two showings.
So if the UFC is going to make this merger beneficial, then for the fighters sakes, they will have to add more shows in order to showcase the fighters themselves, something which adds its own challenges.
3: TV networks: Things were going swimmingly in ZUFFA land as regards television deals in 2010. With deals signed with Spike and Versus, the UFC and WEC were enjoying the fruits of hard labour. Along with this, the UFC surpassed Professional Wrestling, such as the WWE on the PPV scene. Now though, all this could change as the goalposts have shifted.
In 2010, seven out of eight WEC events were aired on Versus. The other event, WEC 48 was a PPV event.
From what we have heard, the UFC will air four events on Versus in 2011, which means three less than in 2010 and 2009. For some fans, as I stated earlier, a cut in the number of events would be a welcome, but that's probably not the UFC's plans. The smart money is on the UFC scheduling those extra three events for PPV, meaning fans will have to shell out an extra $150. It also means that Versus fans will possibly no longer see Jose Also defend his Featherweight Championship, unless he wants to pay for the privilege on PPV.
Already, I have mentioned the below par standard of Fight Nights and UFC Live cards in the past. With less cards on Versus now and possibly more on PPV, the UFC will not have any incentive to put Aldo or Cruz on a free to air card, especially when they could make much more money promoting it on a super UFC card.
This is bad news for fans in the US as it means less MMA calibre fights on cable for them. For UK and Ireland fans, it is different altogether. Right now, every UFC card, whether it be a PPV/Live/Fight Night is shown on ESPN. They do not receive WEC, but in the future, they will now experience the joys of Jose Aldo and others as the WEC folds into the UFC banner. That is a small pro and is only applicable to UK and Ireland fans. But for US fans, it means that they will now have to fork out extra money for content which was previously free.
The next year is going to be entertaining, insightful and a learning curve, for fans and UFC staff. For all we know, they have this all planned out already. The goal is world domination and now the next step is upon us. Challenges lie ahead, laden with great dangers as well as opportunities. It's going to be interesting.
Agree or disagree? What do you think are the UFC's main challenges in the next year?