Saturday’s UFC 236 prelims on ESPN prior to the pay-per-view main card averaged 893,000 viewers.
The number was a major drop from the prelims before the two previous pay-per-view shows this year. The UFC 234 prelims, before a show headlined by Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya, did 1,480,000 viewers, boosted by a strong college basketball lead-in.
The prelims before UFC 235, a Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith headlined show, did 1,339,000 viewers.
UFC didn’t get a bad lead-in, as SportsCenter that followed the NBA playoffs did 1,688,000 viewers, nearly double that of UFC.
The answer as to why there was a drop was likely a combination of three factors. The first was that while Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway was a fight that promised excitement, the pay-per-view featured two interim championship matches rather than actual championship matches and the public knows the difference. Second was the prelims totally lacked star power, with a main event of Matt Frevola vs. Jalin Turner and only featured two ranked fighters, Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja, of the beleaguered flyweight division.
Perhaps most important of the factors was the sports competition. You had NBA playoffs on ABC, which included the marquee Golden State Warriors vs. Los angels Clippers, which did 4,826,000 viewers. You had NASCAR on FOX that did 2,787,000 viewers. And you had NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC that did 1,706,000 viewers for the Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs.
The UFC did win the time slot on cable in the 18-49 demo and all key male demos, with a 74 percent male audience in 18-49 and a similar skew among teenagers. It placed second overall to a Hallmark movie on cable for the night.
Among the major markets, the show beat an 0.9 rating in Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco, the latter a surprise going against the Warriors game and airing outside of prime time. The number was hurt by doing only an 0.4 in Los Angeles, against the Clippers, and 0.5 ratings in both New York and Chicago.