Dave Meltzer, who usually has the most accurate PPV buyrate information in the business, recently came out with this information about UFC 111 in his subscriber only newsletter:
Early cable estimates, and granted, anything this early in the week can be way off, indicate about 850,000 buys for UFC 111 on 3/27, putting it in the top six for UFC of all-time. The number had to boost the spirits of the company coming off four straight shows that did disappointing numbers. Dana White didn't give a number, but in an exchange of messages before we got any figures, he indicated being thrilled with the early estimates he had gotten and that it looked to be well above my prediction (700,000) going in. If this number holds up, it would be the largest since UFC 101 on 8/8.
I'm usually pretty close with my PPV estimates before shows, but I was only predicting 650,000 buys heading in to this event. Going as high as 850k is a huge win for the UFC and absolutely proves Georges St. Pierre out as a mega-star for the promotion. GSP would likely only sit behind Brock Lesnar in the star-power department.
To add to the viewership news MMA Mania had the following info about the UFC Fight Night 21 ratings:
(Spike TV) today announced that the event drew an average of 1.6 million viewers, with the viewership peak coming in at two million for the main event between Kenny "KenFlo" Florian and Takanori "The Fireball Kid" Gomi.
Those numbers are right on par with the previous Fight Night offering, UFN 20: Maynard vs. Diaz, which averaged 1.7 million viewers while also peaking at two million.
Holding steady isn't quite on par with the great news of UFC 111 surpassing all expected buyrate predictilons, but UFN 21 was headlined by Kenny Florian and Takanori Gomi. Many casual viewers would still have a reasonably fresh memory of Florian getting drubbed by B.J. Penn and Takanori Gomi is as far from a "household name" as has main evented a UFC event in some time. So for the event to hold steady shows that the brand name alone can draw in a solid number.
Finally, more information from Dave Meltzer as he talked about research done by the UFC:
UFC has done extensive studying regarding its PPV buyers and there were some interesting things that it showed. The average number of viewers per household at a UFC PPV show is ten…The research showed that it varies based on the event. The stronger the event, the higher the average…For UFC, a live show on Spike, the number is closer to 1.5 per household.
The feeling is there are about 200,000 UFC hardcore PPV fans who will watch the show. The rest are going to buy if friends want them to buy, which is why the numbers vary so much. Most of the audience variance are people who are not MMA fans, but fans looking to watch entertainment that people are talking about. It has more of an entertainment lure than a sports lure to the general public.
The feeling is well over 16 million people saw UFC 100 on television, which is as big as the biggest sporting events on network television except NFL playoffs, World Series and NCAA finals.
To add to that number, the study was shown to not take into account the viewers watching in bars. Which would add another large chunk.
The survey's conclusion that most fans that watch are not hardcore MMA fans is not a huge surprise. This is why companies like the IFL fail while PPV's like Ortiz-Shamrock 2 draw huge numbers. However, it would be a mistake to assume that entertainment and sports are entirely distinct from one another. The fact that Machida-Shogun drew a bigger number than Griffin-Ortiz suggests that even those fans that watch for entertainment purposes are largely influenced by sports considerations.
The real conclusion to draw from all this talk of numbers is that despite a slow few months for the UFC they are still a very powerful brand with a stable customer base.