Getting fans to pay to watch sports on television is a hard sell. The Superbowl is on free tv. The Olympics are on free tv.
Only boxing and mixed martial arts have it down.
The WWE is now largely out of the PPV business, making the leap to a pay digital network. However, the organization never broke the 1,000,000 buy mark in North America. According to Dave Meltzer for MMA Fighting, they did have two WrestleMania shows break the 1,000,000 buy mark, but that was with 30-40% of the sales coming from outside of North America.
For years the biggest pay-per-view in MMA history was UFC 100 on July 11, 2009, headlined by Brock Lesnar’s rematch with Frank Mir. Then Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz at UFC 196 beat the record, with an estimated 1,600,000 PPV buys.
Now Meltzer, who knows more about MMA pay per view numbers than anyone not working for the UFC, says that the McGregor vs. Diaz rematch at UFC 202 did about 1,650,000 buys, breaking the record yet again. UFC president Dana White had previously predicted that UFC 202 would break the record.
Meltzer reports that the DirecTV numbers were the highest in the league history, as were the UFC’s own pay-per-view orders through the Internet. Further, the 1,650,000 number does not include PPV orders for streaming directly through the UFC.
In good news for the economic vitality of the league, there were only a handful of PPVs that broke 1,000,000 buys historically. There were three in 2016, so far.
Meltzer points to the bottle-throwing shenanigans at the UFC 202 pre-fight media event as the source for the new record. The Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier shoving match had a similar galvanizing effect on PPV buys. It is a little strange that a tiny physical tussle before an actual fight can get fans so excited. However, the UFC is “as real as it gets” and when it gets so personal between fighters that ordinary boundaries of propriety are broken, apparently fans part easier with their money. That is presumably the secret behind the WWE too, which is no slouch historically in the PPV business.