MBPT Spotlight: UFC Programming Drawing Big Crowds To FS1 With Women’s World Cup Waiting In The Wings

The UFC is drawing large audiences to Fox Sports 1. Though the network averaged only 380,000 viewers in primetime, it recently drew 2.75 million for a live UFC match.

The all-sports cable network, which is only a year and a half old, has access to the mixed martial arts organization’s live fights and shoulder programming rights as part of an eight-year Fox deal that runs through December, 2019.

“UFC has made a huge contribution to our ratings and growth as a network,” says David Nathanson, general manager and chief operating officer of FS1. “It’s a sport and a partnership that continues to grow and pay dividends for us.”

And Nathanson adds that the network’s UFC telecasts are “opening the eyes of many advertisers,” including some major marketers like Samsung and Reebok.

In January, the Fox Sports 1 UFC Fight Night match between featherweights Conor McGregor and Dennis Siver drew 2.75 million viewers, making it the most watched UFC event ever on FS1 but also the most watched mixed martial arts event on ad-supported cable since Dec. 2009.

On the nights when the UFC conducts pay-per-view events, FS1 televises all the preliminary bouts and four UFC preliminary telecasts in January averaged 977,000 viewers, up 90% from the January 2014 average of 515,000 viewers.

A women’s bantamweight division match between second-ranked Miesha Tate and third ranked Sara McMann drew 1.5 million viewers, including 925,000 in the 18-49 demo.

Two of the most watched UFC postfight shows in FS1 history both aired in January, drawing 459,000 viewers and 318,000 viewers. And UFC Tonight, the network’s weekly primetime show, averaged 150,000 viewers in January, up 178% from January 2014, when it averaged just 54,000.

All of that UFC viewing helped FS1 increase its January primetime viewing by 37%.

In total, under the programming rights agreement with UFC, Fox broadcast network televises four main events a year. In two of those instances, the preliminary bouts also air on Fox broadcast. In the other two, FS1 airs the prelims prior to the main event on Fox.

FS1 carries 11 UFC main event bouts and the preliminaries, while sister net Fox Sports 2 carries five main events and their prelim bouts. FS1 also televises 11 pay-per-view prelims, and two prelim bout telecasts will air on general audience cable network FX.

FS1 also airs two seasons each year of TheUltimate Fighter reality series, which follows athletes that train to compete for a UFC contract.

 ”The depth of athletes in the UFC enables us to offer quality matches every month of the year,” Nathanson says, adding that the live matches draw a young, educated, high-income and predominantly male audience.

While the network is right now getting a large percentage of viewers for its UFC programming, its Big East college basketball telecasts this season are up about 25% in the 18-49 demo, Nathanson says.

FS1 has already begun its NASCAR season coverage with some shoulder programming and Daytona 500 Speedweeks practice coverage, and on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. it will televise the Budweiser Duel at Daytona, the qualifying races that determine the starting positions for the drivers in the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 22. On the big race day, FS1 will televise the Victory Lane postrace show.

This summer, FS1 has another opportunity to expand its audience when it televises 30 2015 Women’s World Cup matches from Brazil, including all eight in the round of 16, two quarterfinals and one semifinal match. Fox has broadcast rights.

“There’s no doubt that the Women’s World Cup can draw enormous audiences and the U.S. women’s team is in a position to attract a large following,” Nathanson says. “This will be the first opportunity for us to wrap the flag around our network and the sport.”