By Matt Singh
I've been a mixed martial arts fan since 1997/98, and have covered the sport for various different outlets, both in print and online, and have covered BAMMA events for WrestlingObserver/F4W.com since September 2010.
I read Andrew Garvey's 'Why the UFC is struggling in the UK' article with interest, as I've been watching the UFC on UK TV since it was first on television here in the UK back in 2001/02 time on Sky Sports, and then the various moves, first to Bravo, then to Setanta Sports, then to ESPN UK and finally now BT Sport. Andrew was correct in his three premises, and in particular the ticket prices. For me, this is the biggest issue.
The other two, the fan base waning/cooling and the far-from ideal TV start times, are somewhat auxiliary and corollary. It's true that the UK fan base appears to have cooled somewhat, but that's only to say that the whole UFC fan base has damped a bit due to the expansion/oversaturation (depending on how you view it, however Andrew hits the nail on the head when he mentions that fewer events have been booked over here over the past two years or so, but again that is a direct result of the expansion into other countries (a point Dana White always stresses when asked).
Fewer events being booked could be translated by fans, and in fact HAS, as the UFC simply treating the UK fans with near-total insouciance, which will only rub fans the wrong way regardless of whether or not said fans have the patience to wait for everything to all into place for the UFC in the UK. Which brings us to the TV situation in the UK.
The UFC has had four different TV deals twelve/thirteen years, which certainly doesn't help when most of the new TV deals signed at the time required UK satellite/cable subscribers to pay an additional fee to add the channel (whether it was Setanta, ESPN UK or currently the upstart channel BT Sport).
As aforementioned, the biggest problem with the UFC in the UK the ticket prices. Whether one believes in anecdotal evidence or not, and whether it has any stock or not, I've seen numerous FaceBook postings from MMA fans stating their displeasure and out-right objection to the UFC ticket prices, also stating they would rather save some money and got to a BAMMA event instead.
Another objection raised generally by UK MMA fans is the lack of real top-draw stars booked on the UK shows, which while true is unfortunate for everyone including the UFC, as of course because there's no pay-per-view buyrate to make big money from the company cannot rightfully booked its biggest name that demand a bug payday. In this regard, it's hard to fault the UFC too much for this.
Of the three points raised by Andrew Garvey, he nails all three and puts his finger on why the UFC has had trouble really penetrating the UK sports market, however having watched every single development of the UFC in the UK, it's been a steady, if slow, progression for the company.
With the new TV deal with upstart channel BT Sport however it appears as though the UFC has a secure platform for not just its major pay-per-views, but also the plethora of 'B' shows as well as panel/discussion shows. The UFC seems primed to expand in the UK, but the question still remains, is the UK fan base willing keep giving the UFC chance after chance after numerous failed TV deals.
Ironically, much like the UFC/Fox Network deal, in the U.S, we're currently in uncharted territory in regard to whether or not a new TV deal will see the UFC reach the heights in the UK, as wished/planned by Dana White.
Also, I'll actually be at the 'UFC Fight Night: Bisping Vs. Munoz' event in Manchester working on press row, so I'll be able to somewhat gauge how the UK fans feel towards the UFC currently.
By Matthew Singh-Dosanjh.