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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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