Posted 01/09/2014 by Derek Suboticki in Subo Says

Why The UFC Fight Pass Isn’t The WWE Network (And Why That’s Good)

Late last week, you may or may not have caught MMA Owl’s coverage of UFC Fight Night: Saffiedine v Lim, perhaps better known as the inaugural event on Zuffa’s newest creation: the UFC Fight Pass. Whether or not you’ve decided to peruse the service and its offerings – and, remember, you can do so without charge until the first of March – the launch of Fight Pass was covered by the MMA blogosphere with something approaching a consensus reaction: good, not great, but with great future potential – all in all, a necessary and proper move in keeping with the evolving methods of distribution available to media/sports/entertainment entities.

Then the WWE Network was announced last night, and suddenly, the Fight Pass wasn’t good enough.

I’ve settled on a more contrarian view. (Imagine that.)

The WWE Network Is Great…

Are you surprised? Don’t be – negative reviews of the WWE Network announcement (keep in mind that the service hasn’t actually, you know, launched yet) are difficult to find for good reason, and they will be here as well. WWE has decades – literally, decades – of experience on the UFC when it comes to both producing its own content and cooperating with PPV/television distributors to create and disperse more; it’s inconceivable that this wealth of previous knowledge wouldn’t translate into superior presentation and accessibility. Additionally, the WWE has an absolutely absurd 100,000 hour-plus video library, including old favorites such as ECW coming eventually and WCW available at launch; there probably isn’t 100,000 hours of videotaped MMA in existence, even including the regional shows not yet under and forever free from Zuffa’s grasp. MMA as a sport, let alone the UFC, can’t compete with that well of history.

While requiring a six month commitment – billed monthly at the same $9.99 rate charged by Zuffa for the Fight Pass – the WWE Network rewards early adopters by including Wrestlemania and SummerSlam with its promised access to every WWE PPV. This was the attribute that truly raised the eyebrows of MMA fans and led to negatively comparing the Fight Pass to the WWE Network; I mean, hardcore wrestling fans just watched their annual pro wrestling bill fall by over 80%, from $720 a year ($60 per SD PPV per month) to $120 ($10 per month with SD PPV included); why didn’t we?

…But it Speaks to a Larger PPV Problem…

Survivor Series, held in November, was traditionally one of the WWF’s “Big Four” PPV offerings of the year, with the others being Wrestlemania in April, SummerSlam in August and the Royal Rumble in January. In fact, these were the only guaranteed PPVs to be run during a calendar year before the In Your House phenomenon ushered in the era of near-monthly pro wrestling PPV events. Granted, the unique match format (four-man tag teams, with each member eliminated individually until there is a victor) has grown a bit stale, and Bill Simmons has recently advocated for the event to lose its “major” status, but that may be calling for something that’s already occurred: according to Cageside Seats, the 2013 iteration of Survivor Series did a measly 95,000 domestic buys and less than 200,000 overall.

95,000 buys is terrible. Those are Affliction numbers. Hell, those are optimistic Bellator numbers. They’re the kind of numbers Invicta would add a zero to and call a triumphant success. They are the kind of numbers, in fact, that would drive a company that made its money on PPV to move, en masse, to a paid subscription network that removed the PPV distributors from the equation.

…That the UFC Doesn’t Have…

They’re also the kind of numbers that would make Zuffa howl. The most recent floor for a UFC PPV was UFC 147, headlined by a three-year-in-the-waiting rematch between Wanderlei Silva and Rich Franklin in Brazil; the card only did 140,000 buys, most of them domestic (the tally isn’t broken down between domestic/international, but Brazil doesn’t sell PPVs), and led to great caterwauling about the viability of Zuffa’s continued insistence on monthly PPV events.

Survivor Series 2013, on the other hand, was headlined by Randy Orton and the Big Show – two longstanding draws, both former champions with Orton currently holding the belt (and John Cena battling for another in the co-main). That’s one of the great things about pro wrestling – not only do you decide who wins and loses, you can put people out over and over again, 200 days a year in some cases, without ever having to worry about a training/competitive injury derailing your matchmaking plans (get well soon, Dolph Ziggler). You can also, free from such temporal concerns as health and safety, build cards at will 4 times a year, never leaving to chance the dream match-ups you want to make. MMA, unfortunately, is not that clean, nor shall it ever be.

The simple bottom line is that WWE is doing this to make money off of PPV’s that don’t sell. The UFC doesn’t have that problem right now.

…And That’s Good for the Fighters!

“Me want MMA fighters to get paid more. Me want to pay less for MMA. Me bizarro MMA fan, me hate it so much.”

Apologies to Al Franken for borrowing his “Bizzaro Newt” shtick, but the competing urges of MMA fans – and their inability to recognize their incompatibility – never ceases to amaze me. If you want fighter pay to go up, then you want PPV revenue – not revenue in general, but PPV revenue specifically, as most champions/draws receive PPV points – to go up. If you want fighter pay to go up, then you want more events at which fighters can ply their trade and BE paid. At this point in time, a massive move from PPV to the Fight Pass would cost both Zuffa and the fighters who draw their salaries from them millions and millions of dollars.

The WWE Network, optimistically, needs a million subscribers to break even; the Fight Pass has no such issues, essentially augmenting locally profitable foreign shows with a little American interest/profit. The WWE Network essentially doomed the WWE’s PPV numbers on a per-event basis; the Fight Pass did no such thing. I’m not here to say a bad word about the WWE Network or it’s offerings; I’m here to say that I’m thrilled that Zuffa’s PPV numbers haven’t collapsed to the point where including them for $9.99 a month is a remotely sane business decision.

God, I wish we had comments here. Get at me at @UntetheredSubo or listen to Mike Fagan (@ItsMikeFagan), Matt Roth (@MattRoth512) and I discuss the matter on @UntetheredMMA at 7pm EST/4pm PST today and every Thursday.




Derek Suboticki

Derek Suboticki is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes. Previous work includes being former editor at Head Kick Legend and Fightlinker and contributor for Watch Kalib Run and Cageside Seats.