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UFC 249 prelims viewership on ESPN not as strong as expected

This story was updated at 4:10 PM Eastern. | Image: USA Today/MMA Junkie

The viewership for the UFC 249 prelims on ESPN were much lower than expected Saturday given both the strong 700,000 buy estimate reported by Sports Business Journal's John Ourand on Monday and the absence of any major live pro sports as competition or as a lead in.

The prelims averaged 1.154 million viewers for the complete four hour broadcast, which included a makeshift one hour pre-show with no fights, down about 3% from the last prelims show for UFC 248 in March. 

Ourand tweeted Tuesday that the numbers "look good", pointing out that the 8-10 PM block averaged 1.466 million with an estimated 500,000 tuning in on ESPN+ where the fights were also simulcast. The show peaked at 1.592 million viewers for the Donald Cerrone vs. Anthony Pettis fight at 9:45 PM Eastern.

Traditionally, ratings for prelims have only included the two hours immediately prior to the start of the PPV. By comparison, Saturday's number included all four which included the aforementioned fightless first hour which almost certainly dragged down the average.

The show averaged a 0.48 in the 18-49 demo, identical to the last prelims show, and finished second in Saturday's cable TV rankings.

The high water mark for 2020 to date was the January prelims show, the lead-in for the massive Conor McGregor vs. Cerrone pay-per-view. That show's prelims averaged 1.767 million viewers and topped the cable rankings with a 0.73 in the 18-49 demo.

The strongest demo on Saturday was men 18-49 where the show averaged a 0.72 and beat everything else on cable with the closest competition doing a 0.49. 

Here's a look at how the UFC PPV prelims on ESPN have done so far this year: