One of the more interesting side stories to come out this week was the apparent dislike from Dan Henderson’s camp about his secondary status to Ronda Rousey. It was started by Gary Pugliese, Team Quest’s striking coach, and has been echoed throughout the MMA stratosphere. Why should what on paper amounts to a glorified pro wrestling squash match headline over a fight that matters much more? It’s the same argument many had for the UFC on Fox 5 card headlined by Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz … and the one many will have at the next UFC on Fox (in my native Chicago) headlined by the flyweight title fight with Rampage Jackson vs. Glover Teixiera underneath. But here’s the thing.
The UFC putting a wealth of talent around Rousey (including Josh Koscheck, Hendo, Urijah Faber and others) for UFC 157 is an indication that they’re hedging their bets on the success of Rousey as both a box office and a PPV draw.
The one downside to Rousey making her UFC on PPV, and not on Fox (which is what would seem more appropriate) is that the UFC is trying to defy history and make UFC 157 a successful PPV draw. In terms of an official gate it should draw fairly well; this is Anaheim, CA, and a lot of local fighters with names are being put on it. It’s a big enough card to warrant what should be a gate somewhere around $1 million or so; with enough local flavor the building should be sold out in no time and generate a decent gate early on. Getting people in the door would be difficult if it was a Rousey-centric card, based on her past gates in Strikeforce, but loading up the card with enough local names of note should make it easier for the building to draw well.
It’s on PPV where the biggest problems will come … which is why she may be a headliner but is being surrounded by enough minor drawing fighters to help boost up what might be the lowest buyrate of 2013. Rousey may get onto the Conan O’Brien Show on TBS but will it translate it into PPV success? We don’t know … and neither does the UFC. You don’t stack a card around a proven draw like Georges St. Pierre because he is the draw.
Women’s sports and women’s pro wrestling as a whole haven’t been proven to draw when it comes to the format of pay per view, that’s been proven so far. In six months McKayla Maroney will have run her course and no one will care anymore except for nostalgia and she was the most covered woman in sport for the year.
The other thing we need to keep in mind is that drawing on Showtime hasn’t proven to be reliable indicator for drawing on PPV for anyone regardless of gender. Fedor Emelianenko, the greatest fighter in the world at one point and one who set the records that Ronda Rousey broke, never broke the 100,000 PPV mark under any banner. Nick Diaz, who also can point to a lot of records set on Showtime for viewership only drew 280k against B.J Penn in his debut. He would later garner over 400,000 PPV buys against Carlos Condit, of course, but it took a while for him to become a draw.
That’s what Rousey is facing now. People love her and she is a force to be reckoned with in the cage but turning both of those into money-making devices is difficult. Anderson Silva was never a draw on his own at first and neither was GSP as well. It takes time, fights and other stars lending their might to leverage it into a star-making proposition. People watching on pay cable translating to pay per view is a dicey proposition; on a historical level trying to draw with a women centric anything has been a money loser.
Women’s professional wrestling managed to garner a niche audience on cable but never translated into substantial, meaningful or otherwise profitable PPV numbers. The WNBA and other women’s pro sports leagues are traditional money losers as well. Rousey is looking to upset the apple cart and become the one woman in combat sports who can bring in more than just eyeballs and Google search results. Translating that into paid dollars is tough and Rousey might be the one to do it. It’ll just be really difficult.
Rousey so far has been able to gain access to media that plenty of UFC champions find themselves unable to get on, mainly because she’s a curiosity at this point. Will it translate into PPV success? History tells us no, hence the relatively stacked card underneath her. People may not be willing to pay to see Rousey but the UFC is hedging their bets that they will be willing to pay to see her AND someone else. Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida is a proper main event without Rousey on the card and people should be willing to pay for that fight, with the added bonus of Rousey afterwards.
The key to look at Rousey so far is from a box office perspective. So far she hasn’t topped the $200,000 mark in live gate revenues, a good indicator of someone’s drawing power, but those were Strikeforce cards that weren’t as stacked as this. Establishing Rousey and women’s MMA will be difficult because historically trying to convince people to spend their money on this will be difficult at best.
To put it in perspective: a billion people may have viewed Psy’s “Gangnam Style” on YouTube but only three million actually bought it in the U.S. This is the most viewed video in internet history, probably even more than anything involving pornography, and yet out of a billion people who’ve viewed it a small percentage wanted to own it. Getting people to put their money down to see Rousey fight is the challenge.