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Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Rating Jumps Back Up to 1.9
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Episode Seven of The Ultimate Fighter 3, which debuted on May 18th, drew an excellent overall rating of 1.9. The episode is tied for fifth on the list of the all-time most-watched episodes in TUF history, not counting the live season finale fight cards. The rating of 1.9 was an improvement over the previous week's overall rating of 1.7.

In the key demographic of 18-to-34-year-old males, Episode Six had fallen to a 2.4 rating, but Episode Seven was back up to a 2.9 rating in that demo. Granted, 2.9 doesn't approach the season premiere's 3.7 rating in that demo, but it's still an excellent number, and the influx of young male viewers were a likely contributing factor to the higher overall rating.

Compared to the same point in previous seasons, Episode Seven's 1.9 overall rating fares well. Episode Seven of the first season of TUF, featuring Stephan Bonnar's win over Bobby Southworth, drew a 1.7 overall rating. Episode Seven of the second season, featuring Seth Petruzelli's win over Dan Christison, drew a 1.3 overall rating.

Ratings Growth Comes Back on Episode That Actually Features a Fight
The lesson from the past few weeks of TUF ratings should be very clear to the editors who will have the job of taking hundreds of hours of footage per season and piecing it together to form 12 one-hour episodes per season TUF 4, TUF 5, TUF 6, and TUF 7.

In terms of when they tuned in and when they didn't tune in, the American public spoke very clearly on this subject. Episode Five of TUF 3, with the well-developed Rory Singer vs. Solomon Hutcherson fight, had huge audience growth over the course of the hour. The quarter-hour ratings grew throughout the show, from a 1.5 rating in the first 15 minutes of the show, to a 2.1 rating for the actual fight between Singer and Hutcherson.

Episode Six, with a lot of drama and no fights, started off with the same 1.5 quarter-hour rating, but was never able to grow to anything higher than a 1.7 quarter-hour rating. There was plenty of drama as Ken Shamrock had a heated argument with Tait Fletcher, and Noah Inhofer quit the show, but by and large, the public wasn't chomping at the bit to see how it would all play out at the end of the episode. If anything, some viewers tuned out when they realized that there wasn't going to be a fight on the episode. The editors of TUF could have easily pieced together the season differently so that there wouldn't have been any fight-free episodes, but they chose not to.

In Episode Seven, with Tait Fletcher vs. Josh Haynes taking place in the latter half of the episode, the ratings growth was back in full force. The show started off with a 1.8 rating for its first half-hour, and then drew quarter-hour ratings of 2.0 and 2.1 in the final 30 minutes. This makes Haynes vs. Fletcher the second most watched fight of the season, tied with Singer vs. Hutcherson. The most-watched fight so far this season has been Kendall Grove vs. Ross Pointon, which drew a 2.3 quarter-hour rating.

When you don't have a fight on a particular episode and the audience growth during the airing of that episode almost completely disappears, and then the ratings growth comes back on the next episode when it does feature a fight, it would be pretty difficult for TUF's producers and editors to come to any conclusion other than, "We need to edit things in such a way that there is a fight on every episode in future seasons of TUF."

These numbers and trends also send the message that it's still ultimately about the fights to the majority of the viewing audience. The drama and the character development are great for building the fights, but it's still the fights themselves that are the meal ticket at the end of the day.

This fact might actually be a good thing for the UFC in the long run because if the fans want to see actual fights above all else, they'll have to buy the pay-per-view events to see the biggest fights, and the PPVs cost 40 bucks per event. That's the whole point of having a TV presence in the first place: To build up interest in the PPV events.

TUF's Lead-In Makes a Huge Difference
This week's ratings provide more evidence than ever that the increases and decreases in the UFC-related TUF lead-ins have a huge impact on the ratings that TUF draws on any given week. There is a direct correlation every single week so far this season between the lead-in rating and TUF's rating.

-The season premiere of TUF 3, with a new Ultimate Fight Night special providing a strong lead-in audience, drew a record-tying 2.0 overall rating.

-The next week, with UFC Unleashed providing a much weaker lead-in of 1.0, TUF's audience was down significantly to a 1.3 overall rating.

-With a special Royce Gracie episode of UFC Unleashed drawing a significantly higher 1.4 overall rating, TUF 3 was back up to 1.9 in its third episode.

-Over the next three weeks, UFC Unleashed's ratings were steady, but unspectacular, with three consecutive weeks of 1.1 overall ratings. In the same three-week period, TUF draw overall ratings of 1.6, 1.7, and 1.7.

-On the most recent Thursday, with UFC Unleashed drawing a stronger-than-usual 1.3 overall rating, TUF was back up to 1.9.

While it wouldn't be accurate to say that a great rating for the UFC Unleashed lead-in automatically guarantees a great rating for TUF, or that a bad rating for UFC Unleashed automatically guarantees a bad rating for TUF, it also can't be denied that the ebb and flow of UFC Unleashed's ratings has directly lined up every single week with the ebb and flow of TUF's ratings.

Is it the sole reason for TUF's increases and decreases in viewership? Of course not, but it's certainly playing a very significant role.

That's It? Jesse Forbes Just Cruises Into the Semi-Finals?
That is the question that many viewers were asking themselves when it was hastily announced (and then never mentioned again, so as to avoid drawing too much attention to it) that Jesse Forbes wasn't just returning to the show; he was also getting a bye into the light-heavyweight semi-finals. One has to wonder exactly how much thought was put into this decision by the producers, because it only takes a few minutes of rational thought to come up with a better solution.

As I wrote last week in a TUF editorial, there were a few different ways to approach the subject of who, if anyone, would get a bye into the semi-finals as a result of Noah Inhofer's decision to quit the show. Jesse Forbes simply walking into the semi-finals with a record of 0-1 on the show was the worst possible decision, and is unfair to several of the other fighters. To be clear, this is not Jesse Forbes' fault. It's the fault of whoever made the decision to give him the bye into the semi-finals.

It's not rocket science, or overly complicated, or psycho-analyzing the show to say that maybe the producers should have had Jesse Forbes fight the loser of the Haynes vs. Fletcher fight. The winner of that fight would then advance into the semi-finals along with Michael Bisping, Josh Haynes, and the winner of the upcoming Matt Hamill vs. Mike Nickels fight. Even if Tait Fletcher had lost decisively to Josh Haynes in the first round, having a Forbes vs. Fletcher fight would have still been the most fair solution because it would mean that nobody would get a bye.

The fact that Fletcher lost a close, controversial judges' decision only makes it more of a glaring oversight than it otherwise would have been. With a Forbes vs. Fletcher fight, you'd be putting a fighter into the semi-finals with a record of 1-1, instead of putting someone in who is 0-1.

It's not fair to Michael Bisping or Josh Haynes, both of whom earned their way into the semi-finals by winning a fight, that someone with a record of 0-1 on the show is just as much "in the semi-finals" as they are. It's not fair to Matt Hamill or Mike Nickels that one of them will be going home with a record of 0-1 instead of going to the semi-finals with a record of 0-1. And of course, it's not fair to Tait Fletcher that he's going home after losing a close, controversial decision, while Jesse Forbes is going to the semi-finals after getting tapped out in the first round.

Again, this situation is not Jesse Forbes' fault. All he did was come back when he was called upon to do so, and say "Okay" when he was told that he was getting a bye into the semi-finals. Any other fighter would have done the same thing, and you can't blame him for that. The blame goes to whoever made the decision to give Forbes the bye, because thinking about it for five minutes could have easily prevented such a situation from playing out like this.

Other Thursday Night Ratings
The Thursday, May 18th episode of The Ultimate Fighter 3 had to go head-to-head with the final Thursday night of May sweeps from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM. The season finale of Without a Trace on CBS drew a strong 12.8 overall rating, while the gun-slinging season finale of ER on NBC drew a 10.8 overall rating on NBC. That's the closest ER has come to beating Without a Trace's overall viewership in months. Coming in a distant third place was ABC with a 4.1 overall rating for its newsmagazine, Primetime.

It's actually somewhat impressive that UFC Unleashed drew a higher rating on May 18th than it did on May 11th (1.3 vs. 1.1), given the much stiffer competition that it faced on May 18th, which was the final Thursday of the 2005-2006 television season. Airing from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM, UFC Unleashed went head-to-head with the season finale of CBS' CSI (15.7 overall rating), the one-hour series finale of NBC's Will & Grace (11.6 overall rating), the season finale of ABC's American Inventor (4.2 overall rating), and the season finale of Fox's The OC (3.9 overall rating).

Leading out of TUF 3 on Spike TV last week was the pro wrestling show TNA Impact, which continued to show some signs of ratings momentum. After drawing overall ratings of 0.9 and 1.0 on the previous two Thursday nights, last Thursday's episode of Impact increased further to a 1.1 overall rating.

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Monday, May 22, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Wanderlei Silva Replaces Fedor Emelianenko in Pride Grand Prix
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Dream Stage Entertainment has announced on its Japanese web site that Fedor Emelianenko has been forced to withdraw from the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix, and his replacement will be none other than Wanderlei Silva.

Dream Stage had hoped that Fedor would be ready to fight in time for the second round of the Grand Prix when it takes place on July 1st, but the surgery to repair Fedor's severely damaged hand has a very long recovery process. Fedor's doctor stated that the metal plate in Fedor's hand would not be ready to be surgically removed until June at the earliest, which would make it impossible for Fedor to fight on July 1st.

Pride Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva will now get the first-round bye that was originally given to Fedor as the Heavyweight Champion, and will complete what is arguably the best "final eight" in any tournament in the history of MMA. The eight quarter-finalists are Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Hunt, Hidehiko Yoshida, Josh Barnett, Kazuyuki Fujita, and Fabricio Werdum. The quarter-final match-ups will be announced in the coming weeks.

The announcement that Silva will be competing in the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix brings to an end, at least temporarily, a contract dispute between Silva and DSE that had lasted for several months. Silva's contract with DSE expired after his split decision victory over Ricardo Arona on New Year's Eve, and he had been working out the terms of a new contract with DSE ever since. There was also considerable interest in Wanderlei Silva as a free agent from the rest of the MMA community at large, but it's not known if the UFC in particular ever seriously pursued Silva with the kind of money that it would take to sign him.

The Wrestling Observer reported a few weeks before the first round of the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix that DSE wanted to make the match-up of Wanderlei Silva vs. Mark Coleman for the first round, and that Silva and Coleman agreed to fight each other, provided that they could each come to financial terms on their respective Pride contracts.

Silva didn't reach a financial agreement with DSE on his contract, so the fight never happened. As for Coleman, DSE President Nobuyuki Sakakibara inexplicably said at a press conference that he could have chosen Mark Coleman or Zulu, Jr. to fight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the first round of the tournament, and he said that he made the decision to go with Zulu, Jr. instead of Coleman because, "Zulu, Jr. is like the Brazilian Bob Sapp."

While the fact that Silva is participating in the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix means that he is no longer a free agent at this moment, that may or may not be the case a few months from now. The specific terms of Silva's contract, such as how many fights are on his new Pride contract, were not disclosed by DSE.

If Silva's new contract is a long-term deal, then he'll be staying with Pride for the forseeable future. If it's just a contract for Silva to participate in the Open Weight Grand Prix and nothing more, then he could be right back to being a highly sought free agent a few months from now.

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Friday, May 19, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Ratings Remain Strong in Week Six
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

With its twelve-episode regular season now half-way over, The Ultimate Fighter is still performing very well in the ratings. Episode Seven of TUF 3 drew a strong 1.7 overall rating, matching the overall rating of the previous week.

TUF 3 vs. TUF 2 vs. TUF 1 Through Six Episodes
Through six episodes, TUF 3 is now averaging a 1.7 overall rating. For the purposes of comparison, TUF 1 averaged a 1.6 overall rating through its first six episodes, and TUF 2 also averaged a 1.6 overall rating through six episodes.

The big difference is that TUF 1's ratings remained steady for the second half of its season, while TUF 2's ratings fell off drastically in its second half (averaging an overall rating of just 1.2 over its final six regular episodes).

The key for TUF 3 will be whether it follows the TUF 1 pattern of remaining steady in the second half, or the TUF 2 pattern of falling off sharply. All signs would seem to point to the former being the case. While TUF 3's ratings were volatile and unstable in its first three episodes, the ratings have since leveled off to a consistent level, with the last three weeks drawing overall ratings of 1.6, 1.7, and 1.7. It appears very unlikely that TUF 3 will experience anything like the TUF 2 ratings drop-off.

Compared to this exact point in the first two seasons, TUF 3 falls right in between the first two seasons with its 1.7 rating for Episode Six. The sixth episode of TUF 2 drew a 1.4 overall rating with the featured fight of Jason Von Flue defeating Jorge Gurgel. The six episode of TUF 1 drew a 2.0 overall rating, which is tied for the highest in the history of the series, with the featured fight of Josh Koscheck defeating Chris Leben.

One major factor in the record rating of Episode Six from the first season is that everyone knew going into the episode that it was going to headline with Koscheck vs. Leben. All of the viewers of the previous episode were told that Koscheck vs. Leben would be taking place the following week, and everyone else had a week's worth of commercials to drive that point home.

Now, even though there are no special circumstances with the Josh Haynes vs. Tait Fletcher fight, TUF 3 is in a similar position in the sense that everyone who saw Episode Six has been told in advance that Haynes vs. Fletcher will be taking place on Episode Seven, and there will be a week's worth of commercials to build up to it. The result could be a boost in the ratings for Haynes vs. Fletcher.

The Only Two Minor Concerns with Episode Six's Ratings
The only two concerns with Episode Six's ratings are minor ones, provided that they are merely aberrations and aren't the beginning of new trends. First off, the ratings in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old male demographic were down significantly from the season's 3.0 average, as Episode Six only drew a 2.4 rating in that demographic. Of course, the word "only" has to be qualified by saying that 2.4 is still an excellent rating to be drawing in that demographic, but there's also no mistaking the fact that it's down significantly.

The other minor concern is that the ratings growth throughout the show was almost non-existent. Instead of building towards a fight and then having the fight in the last quarter-hour, Episode Six had a bunch of character development and then no fight at the end of the episode. If one wanted to see a test case for a TUF episode template that is different from the aforementioned norm, you could look at this episode to see what would happen to the ratings. What happened is that Episode Six had the smallest amount of audience growth of any 60-minute episode of TUF 3 to date.

Episode Six started off with a 1.5 rating in the first-quarter hour. The rating went up to 1.7 in the second-quarter hour, and then simply stayed there for the rest of the hour. The last three quarter-hour ratings were 1.7, 1.7, and 1.7. The three ongoing themes that were featured instead of an actual fight (Matt Hamill interacts with his teammates, Tait Fletcher argues with Ken Shamrock, and Noah Inhofer gets a letter) did not result in the audience growth that every episode of TUF usually experiences over the course of 60 minutes.

People were not calling their friends or going out of their way to make sure that they saw the final quarter-hour in order to see what would happen with Noah Inhofer in the way that they normally do in order see what happens in the show-closing fight.

TUF Provided with Tougher Network TV Competition
The network TV competition that The Ultimate Fighter was facing on Thursday night, May 11th was stronger than it had been in previous weeks. Approximately 26.1 percent of American households were tuned in to either CBS, NBC, or ABC from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM (Fox, UPN, and The WB do not provide national programming after 10:00 PM).

Without a Trace on CBS drew a 12.8 overall rating for the second consecutive week, while ER on NBC drew an improved rating of 8.7. Still, NBC expected better given the hotshot ratings stunt that they pulled (commercials ran all week with shots being fired and the tease that one or more major characters could be shot or killed in the storyline). The constant losses to Without a Trace have gotten embarrassing enough for NBC that it will no longer be airing ER all year long up against Without a Trace. In the 2006-2007 TV season, ER will not have any repeat airings, meaning that it will only air for approximately half of the season.

With Commander in Chief having been pulled from the schedule abruptly last week, ABC aired its newsmagazine Primetime in the 10:00 PM hour, and it drew a 4.6 rating. The official confirmation that Commander in Chief has been cancelled is expected to come from ABC this week.

In other Thursday night ratings, the episode of UFC Unleashed that served as TUF's lead-in drew a 1.1 overall rating for the third consecutive week, which may help explain why TUF 3's overall ratings have been almost unchanged (1.6, 1.7, 1.7) during that same three-week period.

TNA Impact drew a 1.0 overall rating, up from the 0.9 overall rating that it had drawn the previous three weeks. The overall rating showed mild improvement, but the big improvement came in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic. In that demographic, TNA Impact drew a 1.9 rating on May 11th, which was up drastically from the 1.1 rating that it drew in the same demographic on May 4th. The 10:00 PM hour on Spike TV's Thursday night line-up is inexplicably going to be filled with a comedy block when TUF 3 ends in June, so TNA won't have the UFC lead-in for very much longer.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Ultimate Fighter Editorial: Noah's Letter & Who Should Get a Bye
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Before delving into the various scenarios that could play out in terms of who will replace Noah Inhofer on The Ultimate Fighter 3 and who (if anyone) should get a bye into the semi-finals, it is necessary to mention first that the "Noah's Letter" episode of TUF 3 raised some serious credibility issues for the series and its producers.

Any sense that the on-the-ground producers of TUF are interested in maintaining a sense of credibility or integrity was pretty much erased by the fact that Noah Inhofer just happened to receive the letter that just happened to deliver several segments' worth of the kind of footage that reality TV show producers crave (or script out word-for-word if you're a writer on Hogan Knows Best).

The issue is not that Noah wasn't allowed to call his girlfriend. That was absolutely the correct decision since nobody's life or health was in danger, and viewers even had the good fortune of being spared the tough guy speech. The problem is that the producers and editors of the show were stressing over and over again to the viewer that the fighters can't have any contact with the outside world, and the sanctity of the competition is so sacred that it can't be compromised... oh, except for a dramatic letter that magically appeared at the training center for Noah to read.

I'm not suggesting that the letter was made up. What I am suggesting is that Noah's girlfriend or whoever wrote the letter may have delivered it to the producers of TUF (or to Zuffa) in an attempt to reach Noah, and one or more people involved in the production could have decided, "It would probably make for some dramatic television if we put this letter in the gym where Noah will see it."

Let's say for a moment that nothing of the sort happened. Even in the far-fetched scenario of the letter being secretly placed in the gym by its author without anyone on the cast, camera crew, or production staff noticing its actual delivery, TUF still took a big integrity hit.

The letter was placed away from where the fighters were training, so that they would discover it when they finished their training session. Are we supposed to believe with a straight face that none of the producers, camera operators, or tech people noticed the letter sitting there at any time during the training session before the fighters came back? They could have and should have removed the letter if they were serious about the "no contact with the outside world" rule.

An additional area of inconsistency with the "no outside contact" rule is the fact that Chris Leben broke the rules during the first season and was not punished for it. As you may recall, Leben told all of the other fighters that he was going to jump the fence on the property where the fighters were living in order to try to find a pay phone to call his girlfriend. Leben was then shown doing exactly that, as he jumped the fence and left the property (though we didn't see what he did from there).

Then we had an episode full of fighters telling the camera that they had been specifically told that anyone who left the property without permission or tried to contact the outside world would be automatically kicked off the show... and then Leben got off with no punishment whatsoever.

What is the message to TUF contestants? It would appear that the message is to not give an ultimatum of, "Let me make a phone call or I quit." Instead, you should simply jump the fence and go make the phone call that you want to make.

Who Will Replace Noah Inhofer?
The the question posed at the end of Episode Six was, "Who walked through the door to replace Noah Inhofer?" The next logical question after that is, "Who is getting a bye into the semi-finals out of the remaining light-heavyweights?" All we know from the commercial teaser for Episode Seven is that the mystery person is a returning fighter (not a reserve fighter appearing on TUF 3 for the first time), and that it's a member of Team Shamrock.

When someone quits the TUF competition or has to leave due to injury, the standard practice has been to replace the departing fighter with another fighter on the same team in the same weight class. That would have also been the ideal answer in this situation, but it was made impossible by the simple fact that Team Ortiz has gone 2-0 in light-heavyweight fights at this point, and had never lost a light-heavyweight before Noah decided to quit.

If a middleweight were to be brought back instead of a light-heavyweight, it would completely screw up the "opening fight, semi-final fight, final fight" format for each weight class, so the returning fighter had to be a light-heavyweight, and he had to be from Team Shamrock since there were no Team Ortiz light-heavyweights in the "loser house."

With that in mind, who are the two Team Shamrock light-heavyweights who have lost this season? Jesse Forbes and Kristian Rothaermel. Kristian had a giant cut on the top of his head that required a lot of stitches, while Jesse lost his fight by submission in the first round and sustained little damage. So, logic dictates that it will be Jesse Forbes returning in Episode Seven. Most people are already assuming that, and this isn't the part that is particularly complicated.

Who Should Noah's Replacement Fight, and Who Should Get a Bye?
The much harder question to answer is, "Who is going to get a bye into the semi-finals?" We already know that Michael Bisping is in the light-heavyweight semi-finals. We also know from the commercial that the Josh Haynes vs. Tait Fletcher light-heavyweight fight will take place as scheduled on Episode Seven, so the winner of the Haynes vs. Fletcher fight will also be in the light-heavyweight semi-finals.

Assuming that Jesse Forbes is the returning fighter, that would mean that the remaining light-heavyweights would be Mike Nickels and Jesse Forbes from Team Shamrock, and Matt Hamill from Team Ortiz.

Three fighters, and two spots in the semi-finals to fill. How do you manage that in a fair way? The producers of TUF 3 were forced to make that decision at some point during the show's filming, and though we don't know what decision they made, there are only three scenarios that seem like possibilities.

As explained in the season premiere, the third season of TUF has a new matchmaking format. Every fighter now has to fight an "opening round fight" before they can get to the semi-finals, which was an excellent decision by the producers. Keep in mind that the whole point of having the modified matchmaking format in the first place was to avoid having anyone make it to the semi-finals without a win, which happened on five different occasions in the first two seasons.

Scenario #1: Jesse Forbes Gets a Bye
The producers could have Mike Nickels fight Matt Hamill, and simply give Jesse Forbes a bye into the semi-finals, even though his record in the competition is 0-1 (just as Chris Leben was given a bye into the semi-finals with a record of 0-1 in the first season). This is probably the least fair scenario because someone with a record of 0-1 on the show would be getting a free ride into the semi-finals, which would go against the whole principle of the modified matchmaking format.

Scenario #2: Matt Hamill or Mike Nickels Gets a Bye
Another alternative that seems much more fair is to have Jesse Forbes face either Mike Nickels or Matt Hamill, and give the other fighter a bye into the semi-finals. This scenario would put either Nickels or Hamill into the semi-finals with a record of 0-0 on the show, but that is much better than advancing someone with a record of 0-1 (Forbes) into the semi-finals.

The only question in this scenario is which fighter (Nickels or Hamill) would get the bye. If you want to say that it should be a Team Ortiz fighter since Noah Inhofer was on Team Ortiz, then Hamill would be the one to get the bye into the semi-finals. If you want to have all of the fighters on both teams vote on which of these two fighters should get the bye, that would likely lead to Nickels getting the bye into the semi-finals.

Scenario #3: Nobody Gets a Bye
The only other scenario that would make some degree of sense would be to have the returning Jesse Forbes actually face the loser of Episode Seven's fight between Josh Haynes and Tait Fletcher. You could have the next middleweight fight as scheduled, and then in the next episode have Forbes go up against the loser of Haynes vs. Fletcher.

What's good about this scenario is that it places two fighters on an equal playing field. Both Forbes and the loser of Haynes vs. Fletcher would have 0-1 records before they fought each other. Yes, you would be advancing someone into the semi-finals who would have a record of 1-1 at that point, but again, that is much better than putting someone in the semi-finals whose record on the show is 0-1.

Scenario #3 is the only scenario which guarantees that all four fighters in the light-heavyweight semi-finals would have a record of either 1-0 or 1-1 going into the semi-finals, as opposed to having a fighter in the semi-finals with a record of 0-0 or 0-1.

I would personally go with Scenario #3, or if the loser of Haynes vs. Fletcher is unable to fight again due to a cut or injury, then I'd go with Scenario #2. You may agree or disagree with me for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it's not up to us. It's up to the producers, and we'll find out on Thursday night what they decided during the filming of TUF 3.

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Monday, May 15, 2006
Television--- Scrubs Gets Spared, Many other Shows Get Axed
NBC officially kicked off upfront week with its presentation to advertisers earlier today.

The biggest question mark headed into the presentation was Scrubs, which has now been renewed for another season but will not be returning to the line-up until midseason. The same goes for Crossing Jordan... it has been renewed, but is not on the fall schedule.

The news also came down that Fear Factor has been officially cancelled, along with E-Ring, Joey, Four Kings, Three Wishes, Conviction, Teachers, Heist, and Inconceivable.

My Name is Earl and The Office will move to Thursdays at 8:00 and 8:30, respectively. Both series currently air on Thursdays at 9:00 and 9:30, respectively.

The Donald Trump version of The Apprentice has one more season coming, but it could be the last season if ratings don't improve.

None of the other networks have made their upfront presentations yet, but CBS has apparently renewed The New Adventures of Old Christine and Close to Home. Also, King of Queens has been renewed, but will be returning to the line-up in midseason instead of the fall due to Kevin James' movie-filming obligations.


Television--- Several Series Get Renewed, Several Get Cancelled
With upfront week in the television industry now upon us, several network TV series have already learned their respective fates.

The most upsetting two pieces of news for fans of quality television are that ABC has cancelled both Invasion and Sons & Daughters. The cancellation of Sons & Daughters was almost a foregone conclusion due to its poor ratings (despite its critical acclaim), but Invasion was thought to have had a real shot at life for a second season.

With Commander in Chief just about dead in the water (with its three remaining unaired episodes set to be burned off in June on ABC), the feeling was that ABC wouldn't cancel both of its high-profile freshman dramas, especially since Invasion's ratings were only in the "fairly bad" category (as opposed to "God-awful"), and it didn't have the ratings collapse throughout its season that Commander in Chief experienced.

Making the situation worse for Invasion fans is that ABC has renewed the midseason drama What About Brian for a second season, despite the fact that What About Brian had the same fairly bad ratings and very little critical acclaim as compared to Invasion.

As for the other on-the-bubble ABC shows, Freddie and Hope & Faith did not make the cut, as both series have been cancelled. Crumbs, Rodney, The Evidence, and In Justice have not been oficially cancelled, but are expected to be cancelled in the very near future. According to Jim and George Lopez are still very much up in the air, although the blog posts of the creator of Sons & Daughters would seem to indicate that According to Jim got the nod for another season.

Over at Fox, The OC has been renewed as expected, despite its slumping ratings. The War at Home, a good comedy with mediocre ratings, has been renewed. Strangely, a second season renewal was also given to The Loop, a horrible comedy that was among the lowest rated shows of the season. Also, though it happened a few months ago, the fact that King of the Hill got renewed for another season is still shocking due to the horrible ratings that the show produces.

At NBC, Conviction and Teachers have been cancelled, with Joey, Four Kings, E-Ring, and Surface expected to follow very shortly (although Four Kings will at least get the dignity of having its remaining unaired episodes burned off in the summer).

The last major remaining on-the-bubble show for NBC is Scrubs. Honestly, any other TV show with the same ratings as Scrubs would probably have been cancelled two seasons ago, and would definitely have been cancelled last season. NBC is in a different position now because Scrubs is no longer its only critically acclaimed young comedy. With My Name is Earl and The Office as part of the landscape (both with better ratings than Scrubs), NBC no longer "needs" Scrubs in order to have a critically acclaimed young comedy. Scrubs' ratings were just about as bad as ever this past season, and The Office is regarded as far more buzzworthy and with far more of a potential upside in the future. We'll find out about Scrubs later this week.

On the new CW Network (the love-child of the UPN-WB merger), 7th Heaven has been renewed for another season, despite the fact that the so-called "series finale" of 7th Heaven just aired last week. This was a case of both sides (the network and the studio) playing hardball for the past several months, as the network took the position of, "It's no longer worth it for us to pay these huge rights fees for the show," followed by the studio taking the position of, "Well, we're not going to accept a decrease in the rights fees," followed by both sides storming off and saying, "Well, fine then!" (That is obviously not a word-for-word transcript.)

Ratings have a way of changing people's minds, so after the last few episodes of 7th Heaven performed very well in the ratings by WB standards (especially the so-called "series finale"), the two sides worked something out and now the show will be back in the fall.

Previously Confirmed-as-Cancelled Shows
For the purposes of being concise with upfront-related news, the only shows that I have discussed so far have been the shows whose fates were not known until the past few days. Plenty of shows from the 2005-2006 TV season were already confirmed as being cancelled in the previous weeks and months. Here is a list of those shows on all of the broadcast networks, listed alphabetically, followed by a couple of other lists for summary purposes.

Previously Confirmed as Cancelled This Season on ABC: Alias, Emily's Reasons Why Not, Hot Properties, Night Stalker

Previously Confirmed as Cancelled This Season on NBC: Apprentice: Martha Stewart (the Donald Trump version is not cancelled), Celebrity Cooking Showdown, Heist, Inconceivable, The Book of Daniel, West Wing, Will & Grace

Previously Confirmed as Cancelled This Season on Fox: Arrested Development (I miss it already), Head Cases, Killer Instinct, Kitchen Confidential, Malcolm in the Middle, Reunion, That '70s Show

Previously Confirmed as Cancelled This Season on CBS: Threshold, Yes Dear

Previously Confirmed as Cancelled This Season on UPN: Get This Party Started, Sex Love & Secrets

Previously Confirmed as Cancelled This Season on WB: Charmed, Just Legal, What I Like About You

Additional Lists
Shows that have not yet been officially cancelled, but are widely believed to have very little chance of being renewed: Commander in Chief, Courting Alex, Crumbs, Cuts, E-Ring, Eve, Free Ride, In Justice, Jake in Progress, Joey, Less Than Perfect, Living with Fran, Mircale Workers, Out of Practice, Related, Renovate My Family, South Beach, Stacked, Still Standing, Surface, Survival of the Richest, The Evidence, Three Wishes, Twins

Shows that were just revealed as cancelled in the past couple of days: Conviction, Freddie, Hope & Faith, Invasion, Sons & Daughters, Teachers

Shows that were just renewed for an additional season in the past couple of days: 7th Heaven, The Loop, The OC, The War at Home, What About Brian


Sunday, May 14, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC Adds New Live TV Broadcast
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

As first reported by MMAWeekly, the UFC is planning to run a live fight special on Spike TV not only on June 24th as previously announced by the UFC, but also on June 28th.

The date of Saturday, June 24th (as opposed to a different night of the week) was chosen because Saturday is the night on which the UFC has typically drawn the highest ratings for its live fight specials, so it only makes sense to have TUF 3's live season finale on a Saturday. The three-hour live broadcast is scheduled to run from 9:00 PM to 12:00 AM.

The date of Wednesday, June 28th will be the first time that the UFC runs a live fight special on a Wednesday. The date of June 28th specifically chosen because Spike TV wants to use a live UFC broadcast as a strong lead-in for the series premiere of "Blade: The Series."

As you might guess from the title, Blade: The Series is a new TV series based on the Blade series of comic books, which were previously the inspiration for three feature films starring Wesley Snipes (the TV series will star Kirk Jones in the lead role instead of Snipes). Spike TV has put a lot of resources into Blade: The Series as the network's first scripted original series, and wants to provide the first episode with a strong lead-in, even if that means taking the risk of over-exposing the UFC product.

Spike TV has committed to 13 one-hour episodes of Blade: The Series, the first two of which will air in a two-hour block on Wednesday, June 28th at 10:00 PM. The June 28th live fight special will be a two-hour broadcast that will air from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

You can expect lots of announcer plugs and commercials for Blade: The Series to run throughout the UFC broadcast on June 28th, and it would be reasonable to expect them to mention that Chuck Liddell has a guest-starring role on one of the episodes of Blade: The Series. It sends a very positive message about what Spike TV thinks of the UFC when they need a strong lead-in for a major new show and their first instinct is to order a UFC special to provide that strong lead-in.

What Spike TV has to gain from this is obviously to get a better rating for the series premiere of Blade than they otherwise would. What the UFC has to gain from this is, very simply, money. The UFC not only gets about half of the advertising revenue from every show that they put on Spike TV, but they also get paid a programming rights fee for every show that they air on Spike TV.

In much the same way that the UFC's April 6th live fight special existed for the primary purpose of helping to pop a big first-week rating for The Ultimate Fighter 3 (which it did), the June 28th live special will exist for the primary purpose of helping Blade: The Series to pop a big first-week rating.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- Possible UFC-HBO Deal Looms as UFC Mentioned on HBO PPV
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

As a potential TV deal with HBO looms on the horizon, the UFC was mentioned for the first time ever on an HBO boxing broadcast this past Saturday night. During the big-money Oscar de la Hoya pay-per-view broadcast, in the second-from-the-top fight between Kassim Ouma and Marco Antonio Rubio, legendary boxing trainer and HBO commentator Emanuel Steward mentioned that boxing cut-man Leon Tabbs also serves as a cut-man for the UFC.

Here is a rough transcript of how the conversation played out between Steward, HBO play-by-play man Jim Lampley, and HBO commentator Larry Merchant.

Emanuel Steward: "... and Kassim Ouma's cut-man is Leon Tabbs. Leon is one of the last remaining elements from the old-school Philadelphia boxing scene. He's a great cut-man. I think he's also a cut-man in the UFC."

Larry Merchant: "What is the UFC?"

Emanuel Steward: "That's that Ultimate Fighting stuff, or whatever..."

Jim Lampley: "Ultimate Fighting Championship is the name of the organization that has drawn Marc Ratner away from the Nevada State Athletic Commission to be an executive for them... so Marc Ratner will be leaving the boxing world to work for the UFC."

UFC-HBO Deal in the Works? What about Spike's "Exclusive" Deal?
It may or may not be a coincidence that the UFC was mentioned for the first time on HBO just a couple of weeks after UFC president Dana White reportedly said during a Sacramento radio interview that Zuffa was in negotiations to strike a TV deal with HBO. During an interview in late April on "The Carmichael Dave Show" on KHTK- 1440 AM in Sacramento, White reportedly said that the UFC would "be on HBO very soon... it will happen."

Zuffa's television deal with Spike TV has always been called "an exclusive deal" by both sides of the agreement. In fact, when the UFC-Spike deal was renewed through 2008 just a couple of months ago, the exact wording in the Spike TV press release at the time was, "The deal positions Spike TV as the exclusive cable home of one of the fastest growing brands in sports, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, through 2008."

Given that statement in the Spike TV press release, the only way that UFC programming could legally appear on HBO would be if the contract between Zuffa and Spike actually said that Spike TV is the exclusive "basic cable" of the UFC. That wording would specifically not cover a "premium cable" channel such as HBO or Showtime. Otherwise, any TV deal between the UFC and HBO would be legally impossible until at least 2008.

MMAWeekly asked a Spike TV spokesperson the specific questions of whether Spike's "exclusive" deal with the UFC only applied to basic cable, and whether the UFC-Spike deal would prevent any UFC programming from being able to appear on HBO. The response from Spike TV was that they were choosing not to comment on this matter.

That is far from a confirmation that the UFC is in the clear to potentially sign a TV deal with HBO. However, if the actual answer to the question was, "No, the UFC is 100% exclusive to us and they cannot appear on HBO," one would certainly think that Spike would have said something resembling that instead of refraining from making any comment on the subject.

While the UFC mention on HBO may have been planned if the two sides are indeed working on a deal, it could have also been a coincidence that came up purely because Emanuel Steward knows Leon Tabbs and knows that he works as a cut-man in both boxing and the UFC.

Even if it was just a coincidence, the mention of the UFC on an HBO pay-per-view broadcast does strongly indicate, if nothing else, that the signing of Marc Ratner to be an executive at Zuffa is already paying dividends. Ratner has been the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission for over a decade and is very well-known and respected in the boxing world.

Signing Ratner to become a vice president with Zuffa gives the UFC an instant boost in mainstream media awareness and credibility, which was reflected in the fact that his signing was the first thing that came to Jim Lampley's mind when the initials "UFC" were mentioned.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- In-Depth Look at Ortiz-Shamrock Hype and TUF 3 Ratings
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

As the promotional build-up for the Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock fight begins to overlap with the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, ratings for the show have remained strong and are likely to increase in the coming weeks as the Ortiz-Shamrock dynamic continues to play out.

Episode Five of TUF 3, debuting on May 4th, drew an overall rating of 1.7, which was up slightly from Episode Four's overall rating of 1.6. The show also drew an excellent rating of 3.1 in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic for the second consecutive week.

Comparisons to the First Two Seasons; and Do Middleweights Draw Higher Ratings than Light-Heavyweights?
Through five episodes, TUF 3 is averaging a 1.7 overall rating. At the same point in the previous two seasons, TUF 1 was averaging a 1.5 overall rating, and TUF 2 was averaging a 1.6 overall rating.

The specific rating for Episode Five of this season also compares favorably to previous seasons. The fifth episode of TUF 2 drew a 1.5 overall rating (and that was actually the final week that a regular episode of TUF 2 ever drew a rating higher than 1.4).

The fifth episode of TUF 1 drew a 1.7 overall rating, just like the fifth episode of TUF 3, but there's simply no contest in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old male demographic. TUF 3 blows away TUF 1 in that demographic, as the fifth episode of this season drew a 3.1 rating in that demo, compared to a 2.0 rating in the same demo for Episode Five of the first season. Even though overall viewership was virtually the same, viewership was much higher in the young male demographic, which puts more advertising dollars in the pockets of Spike TV and Zuffa.

In something that is probably just a coincidence at this point (although we'll find out over the course of the season), the TUF 3 fights that have drawn the highest ratings have all been middleweight fights. There have been two episodes thus far with light-heavyweights fights, and they have been the two lowest-rated episodes of the season. In addition, looking at the quarter-hour ratings for each specific fight, the two least-watched fights of this season thus far also happen to be the two light-heavyweight fights.

Huge Ratings Growth Over the Course of Last Week's Two-Hour UFC Block
On the surface, Episode Five's rating of 1.7 is not all that different from Episode Four's rating of 1.6. However, a much brighter picture is painted if you look more closely at the numbers, as there was remarkable ratings growth over the course of both UFC Unleashed and TUF on May 4th.

Kicking off the evening, the episode of UFC Unleashed that aired at 9:00 PM on May 4th drew an overall rating of 1.1. The previous week's episode of UFC Unleashed drew the same overall rating, but arrived at the number completely differently. The April 27th episode of Unleashed drew quarter-hour ratings of either 1.1 or 1.2 throughout the entire show. On the contrary, the May 4th episode grew drastically from a 0.9 rating in the first quarter-hour to a 1.4 rating in the final quarter-hour.

This ratings momentum continued for The Ultimate Fighter at 10:00 PM. The first 15 minutes of TUF drew a 1.5 rating on both April 27th and May 4th. The difference is that the ratings for the April 27th episode remained pretty flat throughout the episode, peaking with just a 1.8 rating in the final quarter-hour. On the other hand, viewership for the May 4th episode built as the show progressed, climaxing with a strong 2.1 rating for the final quarter-hour.

The quarter-hour rating of 2.1 for the match-up between Rory Singer and Solomon Hutcherson was the second highest-rated quarter-hour of the season, and that includes the 90-minute season premiere. The only quarter-hour in the entire season so far that drew a higher rating was the 2.3 rating that was drawn by the fight between Kendall Grove and Ross Pointon. Singer vs. Hutcherson was the first fight of the season to make it out of the first round.

TNA Ratings Remain Flat, Network TV Provides TUF with Less Competition than Expected
Unfortunately for TNA, the company that puts on the "TNA Impact" pro wrestling shows that follow The Ultimate Fighter at 11:00 PM, the ratings momentum ended at 11:00 PM on Thursday night. The first quarter-hour of TNA Impact drew a 1.1 rating, and that rating slipped throughout the show until it was just 0.8 for the final 15 minutes of the broadcast. Overall, TNA Impact drew a solid-but-unspectacular overall rating of 0.9 for the third consecutive week.

The Ultimate Fighter had to go head-to-head with the major broadcast networks' May sweeps line-ups for the first time on May 4th, but the major networks' ratings were actually slightly lower than usual instead of being higher. A new episode of "Without a Trace" on CBS drew a 12.8 overall rating, demolishing "ER" on NBC, which drew a 7.9 overall rating. The ratings gap between Without a Trace and ER continues to grow wider at an alarming rate, almost to the point that ER might be moved to a less competitive timeslot next season (even though that would be seen as an admission of defeat by NBC).

One broadcast network that didn't provide TUF with any significant competition on May 4th was ABC. The episode of "Commander in Chief" that ABC was scheduled to air on May 4th was abruptly pulled from the schedule, along with all previously scheduled airings of Commander in Chief, due to the increasingly poor ratings that the series has been drawing.

When a network pulls a TV show so that it doesn't drag down the network's May sweeps averages, it's usually a solid indication that the show is as good as dead. The episode of the newsmagazine "Primetime" that aired instead at 10:00 PM didn't do any better, as it drew a 3.8 overall rating. There is almost no chance that Commander in Chief will be renewed for a second season. The remaining unaired episodes (there are three of them) are expected to be burned off in June in a timeslot to be determined.

Ortiz-Shamrock Hype Likely to Increase TUF's Ratings in Coming Weeks
In addition to the weaker than usual head-to-head competition from network television, one of the reasons that TUF 3's ratings grew so much over the course of Episode Five is very likely that the Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock pull-apart was "buzzworthy" enough for a lot of viewers to call or IM some of their friends, who then tuned into the show themselves. This is likely to also increase the ratings of future episodes of TUF 3, even though it may (or may not) be damaging the sport's credibility in the process.

The purpose of having Ortiz and Shamrock serve as the coaches this season in the first place was not only to sell a PPV fight between the two of them, but also to make for some compelling television with plenty of conflict for the TV cameras.

During the second half of TUF 2's season when the ratings were collapsing, a source at Spike TV told MMAWeekly that he believed one of the biggest reasons for the collapse was that there wasn't enough conflict between coaches Matt Hughes and Rich Franklin, who are friends in real life. Casting Ortiz and Shamrock as the Season Three coaches was seen from the very beginning as something that would be very likely to produce dramatic scenes for television. As much as Zuffa has always hated any comparisons to pro wrestling, the UFC is becoming more and more like pro wrestling in terms of how UFC fights are promoted.

Along those same lines, the Wrestling Observer reported while TUF 3 was still filming that virtually everyone involved with the creation of the show was "thrilled" with how the Ortiz-Shamrock was playing out. The Observer subsequently reported at the end of the season that Zuffa "got exactly what it expected" from Ortiz and Shamrock, and further wrote that Ortiz and Shamrock knew that their job going into the season was, in large part, to generate strong hype for their PPV fight.

From a marketing perspective, this was apparent from the moment that Ortiz and Shamrock were announced as the coaches for TUF 3 during the UFC 56 pay-per-view. They acted like they could barely stand in the same ring (or cage) together without coming to blows. Later, when the TUF 3 marketing campaign hit the airwaves in order to build interest in the season before it premiered, what was the focal point of the commercials? The pull-apart scenario that just aired on Episode Five.

Now, does all of this mean that every little detail of the Ortiz-Shamrock pull-apart was fake? Absolutely not. But did Ortiz and Shamrock embellish for the cameras over the course of the season and exaggerate the real-life dislike that they do have for each other, in order to generate interest in their feud, draw higher ratings for TUF, and draw a higher PPV buyrate for their own fight? You would have to be very naive to think that the answer to that question is "no."

It's not like Ortiz and Shamrock would be doing it purely out of the goodness of their hearts in order to help the UFC draw stronger ratings for TUF 3. Ortiz and Shamrock are both set to receive a bonus for all PPV buys over a certain amount for their fight at UFC 61, which gives both of them the direct financial incentive to do everything in their power to generate as much interest as possible in their feud.

Ortiz and Shamrock are certainly not going to be on each other's Christmas card lists, but they don't hate each other quite as much as you've been led to believe during this season of TUF. In early 2005 when a possible Ortiz-Shamrock fight was in the works (Shamrock vs. Rich Franklin ended up happening instead because of a contract dispute between Ortiz and Zuffa), the Wrestling Observer reported that the extent of the real-life "hatred" between Ortiz and Shamrock was that Shamrock has a temper, Ortiz legitimately enjoys pushing Shamrock's buttons, and as a result Ortiz does legitimately get under Shamrock's skin at times. They're far from friends, but also far from the "hating each other with every fiber of their being" scenario that has been presented to viewers of TUF 3.

Again, the chances are almost zero that Ortiz and Shamrock ever got together and said anything resembling, "I'll do this, and then you do this, and then I'll do this." But for both of them to decide individually that they should embellish and play up their dislike for each other as much as possible during the course of TUF 3 was almost a given heading into the season, and it played out largely as expected.

This benefits the UFC directly by leading to higher ratings for TUF 3, which leads to higher advertising rates for TUF 4 and beyond; and it benefits Ortiz and Shamrock directly by building interest for their PPV fight, which leads to bigger PPV bonus checks for Ortiz and Shamrock.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC and Pride Both Raise Pay-Per-View Prices
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

Zuffa and Dream Stage Entertainment have both raised the suggested retail prices of their pay-per-view events in North America.

Pay-per-view events from the UFC, which were previously $34.95, will now cost $39.95 for the forseeable future. Pay-per-view events from Pride, which were previously $29.95, will now cost $34.95 for the forseeable future. Additionally, Pride Bushido pay-per-view events, which previously ranged from $19.95 to $24.95, will now cost $29.95.

Zuffa Raises the Bar to $39.95
Cable and satellite providers almost always use the suggested retail price provided by the event promoter, and for years that price had been $29.95 for both UFC and Pride events. Zuffa raised the price of UFC PPVs to $34.95 in April 2005, just in time for the record-breaking "Couture vs. Liddell II" event.

Zuffa decided to raise the price again, this time to $39.95, for the "Couture vs. Liddell III" event in February 2006. At the time, a Zuffa PR rep compared it to the boxing PPV model on the Underground Forum and said that the higher price point would probably not be a permanent thing and might only be used "once or twice per year." Indeed, the price of the next PPV event, UFC 58 in March, was back down to the previous $34.95 price point.

However, with $39.95 as the price point for UFC 59 earlier this month, and for UFC 60 in May, and for UFC 61 in July, and for UFC 62 after that (tentatively planned to be headlined by Liddell vs. Renato Sobral), and for UFC 63 after that (tentatively planned to be headlined by Matt Hughes vs. Georges St. Pierre), it now appears that $39.95 will be the suggested retail price for every UFC PPV in the forseeable future.

If Zuffa is confident that it can sell just as many PPVs at the $39.95 price point as it could at the $34.95 price point, then this price increase makes sense from a business standpoint.

It's also a very significant move within the pay-per-view industry because the "normal" price for a UFC PPV ($39.95) is now actually higher than the "normal" price for a World Wrestling Entertainment PPV ($34.95). This gives cable and satellite companies incentive to provide UFC PPVs with more replay timeslots throughout the month, and to promote UFC PPVs more than WWE PPVs, especially since the North American sales of WWE PPVs have fallen off significantly over the past five years.

Why Pride Had Little Choice But to Follow Suit with its Own Price Increase
Given the higher price of UFC PPVs, it could have potentially made Pride look bad in the PPV industry if the company had continued to charge $29.95 for its PPV events at the same time that its biggest competitor was charging $10 more for events of the same length. This is purely about perception. If you're charging $29.95 for three-hour PPV events and your biggest competitor is charging $39.95 for three-hour PPV events, it makes your competitor look like the "premium product" by comparison.

Pride doesn't have to match the UFC's PPV price, but it does have to come close for perception purposes. There really wasn't much of a choice for Pride other than to go up to $34.95, given that Zuffa had gone up to $39.95.

It's very similar in the pro wrestling industry, where the #2 pro wrestling company in terms of North American PPV sales (TNA) has to charge $29.95 for its pay-per-view events, in order to come close to the $34.95 price point of the #1 pro wrestling company in terms of North American PPV sales (WWE). If TNA charged $24.95 or $19.95, it would make TNA look second-rate by comparison.

For many of the same reasons, Pride has also raised the price of its "Bushido" line of pay-per-views. While the "regular" Pride events will now cost $34.95, the Pride Bushido events from this point forward will cost $29.95. Previously, the suggested retail price was only $19.95 for the three-hour Pride Bushido events, although it was raised on one occasion to $24.95 for the four-hour-long "Bushido: The Tournament" event.

King of the Cage and K-1 PPV Prices
If you have ever wondered why King of the Cage charges so much ($29.95) for its three-hour PPV events in North America, it's the same reason--- perception. Obviously, King of the Cage would have a lot more PPV buys in the United States if it charged $14.95 or $19.95 for its three-hour PPV events, but as a promoter you don't want a potential customer to be looking at the prices of PPV events and saying, "Hmm, Promotion A is so much cheaper than Promotion B... so I guess Promotion A must be a second-rate promotion." Even if you actually are promoting a second-rate product in terms of the number of PPV buys, you still don't want to feed into that perception.

The King of the Cage events that only cost $9.95 are viewed completely differently because they are only one-hour-long broadcasts. Even with the price increases from the UFC and Pride, I would not expect to see King of the Cage charge more than $29.95 for its three-hour PPV events anytime soon, given that it's already so much a stretch for them to be charging $29.95 in the first place. That is not intended to be a disrespectful statement towards King of the Cage; it's just that KOTC events are smaller-scale events that cost almost as much as the larger-scale events.

K-1 only charged $24.95 for the recent North American PPV debut of its "K-1 Dynamite 2005" event, but that was primarily because it was only a two-and-a-half-hour event instead of a three-hour event. The next K-1 PPV event that will be made available in North America will be a three-hour-long broadcast of "Mayhem at the Mirage II," which took place last week in Las Vegas.

That event is expected to carry a suggested retail price of $29.95, and unfortunately it will not debut on North American PPV until Friday, June 16th at 10:00 PM Eastern Time. K-1 parted ways with ESPN PPV last summer and is now distributed on North American PPV by Integrated Sports. This change in PPV distributor is the reason for the delayed PPVs, and is also the reason that the final two events in the K-1 World Grand Prix were simply never offered to North American PPV consumers last fall.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- TUF Ratings Down Slightly; Comparisons to Other Sports
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

The fourth episode of The Ultimate Fighter 3 drew slightly lower ratings than the previous episode, but this season of The Ultimate Fighter is still off to the series' best start yet. Episode Four, which debuted on April 27th, drew a 1.6 overall rating as compared to the 1.9 rating that was drawn by Episode Three.

Lower Lead-In Rating and Lack of Quarter-Hour Ratings Growth Likely to Blame for Decrease
The reason for the mild drop-off from week to week has a lot to do with the Episode Four's lack of audience growth throughout the episode. While viewership of Episode Three grew rather drastically as the episode went on (from an average of 1.6 in the first half-hour to an average of 2.1 in the second half-hour), the ratings for Episode Four stayed relatively flat throughout the episode. Episode Four averaged a 1.5 rating in the first half-hour, and a 1.7 rating in the second half-hour.

The other likely reason for the slight decrease in the ratings for TUF is that the ratings for UFC Unleashed came back down to earth after a large increase the previous week.

UFC Unleashed normally draws ratings in the 1.0 range, but the special Royce Gracie retrospective episode of UFC Unleashed that aired on April 20th (as a lead-in to TUF 3's third episode) drew a significantly higher 1.4 rating. On April 27th, another new edition of UFC Unleashed (which did not feature a Royce Gracie retrospective) was back down to a 1.1 rating. With the rating of its lead-in down by 0.3 from the previous week and TUF also down by 0.3 from the previous week, that points to a direct link between UFC Unleashed's and TUF's ratings.

First Four Episodes of TUF 3 Draw Slightly Larger Audience Than Previous Seasons
As inconsistent as the ratings for TUF 3 have been, the fact still remains that through four episodes, the series is off to its best start yet. With overall ratings of 2.0, 1.3, 1.9, and 1.6, this season of TUF is averaging an overall rating of 1.7 thus far.

For the purposes of comparison, the first season of The Ultimate Fighter averaged a 1.5 overall rating through its first four episodes. The second season of The Ultimate Fighter averaged a 1.6 overall rating through its first four episodes.

Of course, the question for TUF 3 or any season of a television show is how the ratings hold up over the course of the season, and you don't need to look any farther than the first two seasons of TUF to illustrate that point. Even though TUF 2 had a slightly higher average than TUF 1 through four episodes, TUF 2 ended up finishing with a lower average rating than TUF 1 for the complete season, thanks to a collapse in the ratings during the second half of TUF 2.

A similar collapse in the coming weeks for TUF 3 does not seem likely since the show is likely to draw in a lot of pro wrestling fans with the worked pull-aparts between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, which are almost certain to be short-term ratings draws no matter what they might do to the integrity of the sport. (Note that when I say "worked," that doesn't necessarily mean that every move was planned out; it just means that Ortiz and Shamrock knew what their purpose was as television personalities during the season, and that was to do as much as possible to build up their PPV fight.)

Other Ratings from Thursday Night
In network TV competition on Thursday, April 27th from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM, The Ultimate Fighter 3 went head-to-head with new episodes of "Without a Trace" on CBS, "ER" on NBC, and "Commander in Chief" on ABC.

Without a Trace crushed ER with an overall rating of 12.2, compared to ER's overall rating of 8.3, which is something that would have been unthinkable just two or three years ago but is commonplace nowadays.

Commander in Chief's ratings continued to plummet, as the show drew an overall rating of 4.4, which is horrible for primetime network television. It is now appearing more likely with each passing week that Commander in Chief will be cancelled, which would mean that the episode of the show that is scheduled to air on Thursday, May 18th would be the show's series finale instead of just its season finale.

The Spike TV series that is leaning on The Ultimate Fighter to provide it with a strong lead-in audience, TNA Impact, drew a 0.9 overall rating on April 27th, which is a good (but not great) rating for cable television. Even though its Ultimate Fighter lead-in audience was down from 1.9 to 1.6, the overall rating for TNA Impact actually went up slightly.

However, the audience retention rate of 56% is still nowhere near the excellent 85% retention rate that TNA had in its first week on Thursday nights. On that night, TUF drew a 1.3 overall rating and TNA nearly matched it with a 1.1 overall rating.

Comparing TUF's Ratings to Mainstream Sports Ratings
The fourth episode of TUF 3 actually drew more viewers in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old male demographic on the night of April 27th than the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball combined. Episode four of TUF 3 drew a 3.1 rating in that demographic, while an NBA Playoffs doubleheader on TNT drew a 2.4 rating in the same demographic. A Major League Baseball game on ESPN2, and the Outdoor Life Network's coverage of the NHL Playoffs, each drew 0.4 ratings in the 18-to-34-year-old male demographic on the same night.

Looking beyond last week's ratings, UFC programming on Spike TV actually draws higher overall ratings than a lot of major sporting events on both cable and network television.

The Ultimate Fighter is averaging a 1.7 overall rating so far this season. The average rating for an NHL regular season game on the Outdoor Life Network this past season was a ridiculously low 0.2. The average for an NHL regular season game on NBC--- network television--- on weekend afternoons was just 0.9. Even the NHL Playoffs on NBC are only managing to draw an average rating of 1.2 when you take into account all of the playoff games that have aired so far on NBC

The UFC also compares favorably with regular season games of baseball and basketball on cable television. Major League Baseball games on ESPN have averaged a 1.5 overall rating so far in the 2006 season. The average rating for NBA regular season games on TNT in the 2005-2006 season was 1.3, while the NBA on ESPN averaged a 1.1 rating.

As impressive as these figures are, it would be a mistake to look at all of this information and say, "This must mean that MMA is a bigger sport than baseball or basketball in the United States!"

It's important to keep in mind is the peak ratings that are drawn by the absolute high point of any given sport. For the UFC, the high mark is a 2.0 overall rating, and even that has only been drawn by one live fight special (from November 2005) and three regular episodes of TUF (two in the first season, none in the second season, and one so far in the third season).

For the purposes of comparison, the seven games of the NBA Finals averaged a 7.1 overall rating last summer, with individual game ratings of 6.3, 6.5, 6.4, 6.5, 7.1, 7.0, and 9.6 for the climactic Game Seven.

The four games of Major League Baseball's World Series averaged a 10.1 overall rating last October, with individual game ratings of 8.6, 9.2, 11.3, and 11.2.

The national championship game of college basketball drew a 9.2 overall rating in early April, while the national championship game of college football drew a 20.6 overall rating in early January.

The biggest-drawing sport in the United States by far is professional football, which draws higher ratings for its regular season games than many sports draw for their playoff games. In primetime television last fall, the NFL on cable television (Sunday Night Football on ESPN) averaged a 7.3 rating, while the NFL on network television (Monday Night Football on ABC) averaged a 10.3 rating, with individual Monday Night Football games ranging from 8.2 all the way up to 13.7 in the ratings.

In terms of peak ratings for the biggest events, there's no contest between pro football and any other sport in the US. The conference championship games averaged a 17.6 rating this past season, and this year's Super Bowl drew an overall rating of 38.2, which was actually up slightly from the 36.6 overall rating of the Super Bowl in January 2005.

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