Posted 01/27/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC on Fox 10 Review

At 1 p.m. local time, Ticketmaster still had tickets available in most sections of the United Center for UFC on Fox 10. The finals numbers still came as a bit of a surprise: 10,895 in attendance for a total gate of $863,655.

That’s down from previous UFC events in Chicago. UFC 90, featuring Anderson Silva and Patrick Cote, drew 15,359 for a $2.85 million gate. UFC on Fox 2 and 6 drew 16,963 and 16,091, respectively, for $1.27 million gates.

For more context, Strikeforce sold 8,311 tickets for a $638,000 gate for Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson. That event took place at the 11,000-seat Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, a suburb about an hour west of downtown Chicago. (Strikeforce never released numbers for the first event at the Sears Centre. WEC 40, featuring Miguel Torres and Takeya Mizugaki, drew 5,257 at the UIC Pavilion; no gate is available.)

So what’s going on here? Why did the UFC have a hard time filling a 20,000-seat building in a city with 10,000,000 people living in its metropolitan area? Five factors stick out.

1. Local competition. Chicago houses five major professional sports franchises. Two of those franchises – the Bulls and Blackhawks – are in the middle of their seasons. Fans are paying close to $100 just to get into the building for Blackhawks games. The Bulls, even without Derrick Rose, are currently the fourth seed in a weak Eastern Conference. Chicagoans two high-level options for their sports entertainment dollar that a city like, say, Sacramento or Seattle or Milwaukee does not at this time of year.

2. Weak card. For a Fox event in a major city, this card sucked. Benson Henderson vs. Josh Thomson is a good fight, but not a legit Fox main event. Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Stipe Miocic, again, is a fun fight, but not co-main worthy for a big show. Jeremy Stephens and Darren Elkins opened the show and were followed by Donald Cerrone and a guy with one fight in the UFC. Last year’s Fox Chicago card lacked the marquee draws of the first two events in Chicago, but at least it was a solid fight card. UFC on Fox 10 would have been a bang up Fight Night card at the UIC Pavilion.

3. Diminishing returns. The UFC always does well their first time in a market (or their first time back in a long while), with fans eager to attend what is likely their first live big-time MMA show. Hit that same market a few times, however, and the demand falls. Columbus is a good example of this. It was an annual UFC trip between 2007 and 2009, scheduled alongside the Arnolds in March. Here are the gate totals:

UFC 96: $1.8M
UFC 82: $2.2M
UFC 68: $3.0M

This goes hand-in-hand with matchmaking, too. UFC 68 featured Randy Couture’s return against Tim Sylvia, plus Matt Hughes and local-boy Rich Franklin. The middleweight unification fight between Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson headlined UFC 82. That event was co-mained by Heath Herring and Cheick Kongo. Quinton Jackson and Keith Jardine (!) headlined the last event in Columbus. That’s a clear downgrade in headliners at each step, and is in line with what we’ve seen in Chicago.

4. Weather. Chicago is cold in January. It’s been especially cold this January. This can be the difference between picking up a ticket the week of the event or staying at home and watching on TV. Now, you put a high-demand product in the building – i.e., the Blackhawks – and people are willing to trudge through the weather. Otherwise, you’re going to have problems.

For instance, those aforementioned Bulls are playing at home tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Bulls are contending for the playoffs, but are doing so with a 22-21 record. The Timberwolves are 21-22 and the eleven seed in the West. And, of course, no Derrick Rose. StubHub currently lists upper deck tickets for as low as $11.

Chicago’s looking at a high temperature of 0 degrees today.

5. A rigid ticket system. Few people were willing to pay face value for this event. The upper deck sections on the east and west sides of the building went near completely unsold. That’s because those seats, though they are clearly inferior to the north-south seats in the middle, were listed at the same price despite a clear difference in value.

Now, normally, that plays out in the secondary market. An upper deck seat for a Bulls game behind a basket is going to cost less than that same seat in the same row in a section at center court. But because this event sold so poorly in the primary market, that wasn’t allowed to play out.

Had the UFC used some sort of dynamic pricing system (or been able to, I’m not sure if their agreement with the United Center prevents that), they would have likely filled more of those seats at a price point between $10 and $20. That’s not a loss for them, either, if those seats would otherwise go unsold. A ticket sold costs the UFC little, if anything, so finding a price equilibrium to fill the seats is additional gate revenue.

When people talk about the cause for low attendance and gate receipts, you can’t toss it on one factor. The weather sucked, but people are willing to come out for a quality product. The UFC’s been through town four times, and three times in the last three years, but you can mitigate that with marquee fights. Local competition may squeeze the locals’ budgets, so you can’t rely on the novelty of your event to sell tickets. Combine all these factors into a perfect storm, though, and you get the abysmal numbers we saw on Saturday.

* * *

FightMetric’s in-depth report tells an interesting story about the main event. Henderson dominates every striking metric. He landed more total strikes (114-33), more significant strikes (46-19), and more strikes targeting the head, body, and legs. Yet, he loses FightMetric’s ten-point must system score 49-47 and only earns a draw based on the fight as a whole.

The only round FightMetric awards to Henderson is the third. He outlanded Thomson in strikes (17-2, 30-2*), and defended all three of Thomson’s takedowns. It was the only truly dominant round from either fighter.

* – significant strikes, total strikes

The 10-10 round is the fifth, and I’m actually struggling to comprehend it based on the raw numbers. Henderson edges Thomson in strikes (11-8, 17-9), and doubled Thomson in the all-important head strikes stat 8-4. Even by total power shots, Henderson holds the advantage 10-6.

Henderson loses round 4 despite a 6-2, 41-8 disparity in strikes. He loses round 2 despite a 11-6, 18-7 disparity in strikes. Round 1 is closer, a single significant strike a piece, and a Henderson 8-7 advantage overall. In each of these rounds, however, Thomson achieved back control.

What likely failed Thomson, and why I don’t mind the result, is that he did little with his positioning. FightMetric credits him with zero submission attempts. In a close round like the first, it’s an obvious difference maker. But when you hold that position for 40% of the round and still lose the striking battle? Without threatening with a submission? I’m not so sure.

Sal D’amato’s 49-46 sounded crazy live, but combining the numbers with my initial thoughts during the fight (I do remember noting Thomson not doing much with his back takes), it’s a lot more defensible. I’m not sure it’s optimal, but now I can understand how he might have arrived at that score.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter


Mike Fagan